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Nidhi turns to look at the dining area from her place in the kitchen: Good morning baba. Chai ya coffee?
BB smiles and sits at the dining table: Good morning beta. Chai. Why did you get up so early? Aaplog toh kal raat ko hi aaye the na. You should have taken rest. College hain kya?
Nidhi: College toh kal se hain baba. Aaj chutti hain. Waise bhi..mera body clock ka alag hi timing hain. I wake up around this time 6 days a week. Par pata nahi isko kaise pata chal jaata hain lekin Sunday ko aate hi alarm band hojaata hain.
BB laughs: Arre jab mein college mein tha na..roz savera jaagjaata tha. Lekin kambhaqt exams ke time pe I could never open my eyes. It was always like get up in the last minute aur bhaago hallticket leke. (Nidhi chuckles and hands him his tea cup) Toh aaj ka kya program hain?
Nidhi: Kuch khaas nahi baba. I need to unpack my stuff properly and see what books I need and things like that. Haan..par khaana mein pakaaungi aaj.
BB and HK get delighted look on their faces and chorus out: Rasam?
Nidhi laughs: Baba! Nahi. I will cook something special. Aap ko JS kitne baje jaana hain?
BB takes the cordless phone: Aaj JS ki chutti. (He gives Nidhi an affectionate look) Aaj bahu ki pehli rasoi hain aur mein aur Hiraman apne bahu ke saath baitkar khoob saari baaten karenge..kyon Hiraman?
HK: Ji Mathur saab. Bilkul.
Nidhi: Kaka..naashte mein Dr..uh..woh kya khaate hain?
BB grins: Pehle toh toast ya cornflakes. Ab ka toh pata nahi. (Nidhi tilts her head with a small frown. BB comes close and puts an affectionate hand over her head) Tera saath paane ke baad beti, aisa lagta hain ki mein ek naye Ashutosh ko dekhraha hoon. Tumne apne pyaar se uski zindagi hi badal diya hain Nidhi
Nidhi shyly bows her head: Meine kya kiya baba..
BB: Pyaar mein gehre se gehra ghaav bharne ki shakti hoti hain Nidhi. Aur mein jaanta tha..jiss din tum mere bete ki zindagi mein aaogi uski zindagi poori tarah rangon se bhar dogi. Apne baba se baat ki?
Nidhi loses her smile and shakes her head: Shaadi ke agle din gaye the lekin..
BB nods: Unka dard aur gussa dono jaayaz haina beti. (He looks at her downbent head and sighs) Chalo..dil chota na kar. Badon ka gussa..unka pyaar hota hain. Mein bhi ek baar baat karke dekhta hoon. Ok? (Nidhi nods and gives him a tentative smile.)
Ashu shouts from the room upstairs: NIDHI..NIDHI..(BB grins at the way his bahu runs up the steps.)
Nidhi pokes her head into the bedroom: Ji?
Ashu gestures to the shirt that he is wearing: Button toot gaya.
(Nidhi grins and walks into the room. She quickly gets the needle and thread and starts stiching up the button with quick efficient movements. He wraps his arms around her waist and pulls her closer. She gives him an "I know what you are up to" look and continues.) You really are good with the needle.
Nidhi: Ma taught me a little bit of embroidery during my holidays. (She knots it and leans in to bite the thread and cut it off. His fingers move up from her waist to her back.) Loji..hogaya. (His arms wrap around her tightly until she is plastered against him chest to thigh) Kya baat hain Dr Ashutosh Mathur..aaj subah subah..(Ashu's lips make a foray across her neck and she giggles and moans as his stubble tickles and arouses her. His lips smother her giggle and his fingers dig into and muss up her hair. They draw apart with panting breaths and flushed faces. He rubs his thumb roughly over her lips before kissing her again with a helpless groan. Her sari pallu gets pulled away before his fingers start attacking the hooks of her blouse. Her own lips travel down his neck and her tongue pokes out to taste his adam's apple.) I think..I think Dr Heartstone is.. going to be..late now.
Ashu pulls away, gives a hurried look at the time, exclaims and after hastily adjusting their clothing, he rushes off and Nidhi runs behind him and literally stuffs a hurriedly made sandwich into his mouth. Nidhi and BB spend the day getting to know each other in a better way. After she finishes unpacking and starting the washing machine with the clothes from their trip, he pulls up a chair near the kitchen so that they can talk while Nidhi does her cooking with the help of HK. She tells them all kinds of stories about her childhood and her mom: Aap ko pata hain baba, my mom used to make super delicious paneer pakodas. I swear they were the best! (Then suddenly gets an idea) Aaj mein banau? Kaka..ghar mein paneer hain kya?
HK: Haan beti. Ashu ko bhi pasand hain toh kal hi laaya. (BB gives an enthusiastic nod and rubs his hands expectantly.)
Ashu: Hello Dr Ranganath! How are things?
Ranga: Fine sir. No problems in your absence. How was your.. uh..trip sir?
Ashu: Fine. Good. Get me the case files of the post operative patients please. I will go through them before starting my rounds.
Ranga: Sure sir. (He hesitates) Sir, are you not feeling well?
Ashu frowns: I am perfectly fine. Aisa kyon poochrahe hain?
Ranga: Nahi..woh..(He gestures to Ashu's unshaven face and gives an awkward shrug)
Ashu shakes his head: Don't ask. (Ranga nods and for the first time hears his boss actually grumble about something) SHE didn't like the clean shaven look.
Ranga stifles his laughter: Oh. I guess you don't have a choice then sir. Chalta hoon. Will get you the files right away. (He hands over the files to Ashu and later comes out to call Anji and update on the latest developments.)
Ashu takes out his phone to send a sms: No flowers :(
His phone pings within seconds: Bahaaron phool barsaao mera mehboob aaya hain..mera mehboob aaya hain ;)
His face splits into a wide grin. And another message pops up right behind: Ey phoolon ke raja..bahaaron ke maalik..tera muskuraana gazab hogaya..
His shout of laughter halts the wardbody passing by his cabin and his eyes almost bug out at the sound of the hearty laughter coming from within the cabin. Dr Heartstone is laughing! He knows how to laugh?! He runs to tell his friends.
Around lunch time, he gets another sms: Yeh raaten yeh mausam nadi ka kinaara yeh chanchal hawaa..
He frowns for a second before smiling and typing his reply: Toh aaj aapke haath ka khaana hain! Whats on the menu?
Her reply: Paneer pakode, Gobi muttar sabzi, dal makhni, roti and..me ;)
Ashu's feet come to a halt as he is making his way to the canteen for lunch. He shakes his head as he types his reply: Temptation personified. On my way.
That evening: Nandini Shelter for boys:
CV looks up from his place in the office at someone knocking and entering. His polite smile of welcome is quickly replaced by a grim expression at seeing BB standing in front of him: Namaste Vermaji. (CV nods reluctantly. BB walks into the room and takes a seat. silence reigns for a few moments as BB gathers his thoughts and CV doesn't try to fill in the gap in any way) Vermaji..I am not here to say that whatever my son has done is right. I know its not a small thing and I know that with this act, he has broken your trust in him and also in your daughter. But Vermaji, ab jo hogaya so hogaya na. We can't undo it. Aakhir apne hi bachche hain. Maaf kardeejiye unhe. Beti ki shaadi pitah ke aashirwaad ke bina adhoori hi rehti hain. She lost her mother and misses her father Vermaji.
CV: Then she should have thought of that before doing what she did. (He gets up and joins his palms telling BB to leave in the most polite way possible)
BB sighs and gets up but turns back to face CV before opening the door to leave: Aapki beti meri bahu bankar mere ghar aayi hain Vermaji. Lekin woh uss ghar mein meri beti bankar rahegi. Aur mujhe apne bete aur uske pyaar par poora bharosa hain. Woh Nidhi ko apne palkon pe bitake rakhega. Yeh..yeh mera vaada hain aapse. Aur humaare ghar ke darwaaze aapke liye hamesha khule rahenge. Namaste. (And leaves.)
Same day: Late evening: Verma residence:
Anji walks in with her backpack: Hello uncle. Hi DB. CS, thodi chai milegi? Ma ghar mein nahi hain. (CS nods happily and goes into the kitchen. DB remains silent but CV gives a smile)
CV: College se aarahi ho Anji?
Anji nods: Ji. College aur wahaa se Nidhi se milke aarahi hoon. Woh apne honeymoon se waapas aagayi hain na! (She gives DB a sidelong glance before enthusiastically continuing) Uncle..she is just glowing I tell you. Aur mein jeejaji se bhi mili thi. Aaj Nidhi ki pehli rasoi hain na..so he came for lunch and stayed back. I saw their trip photos too. Ek haathi ke saath photo khichvaayi hain Nidhi ne..
DB screams: HAATHI? (And suddenly remembers herself and looks away bringing a small smile on Anji's face)
Anji: Haan DB. Aur usne toh jeejaji ko bhi nahi choda. She pulled him along and there is a photo for both of them with that baby elephant.
CS comes with the tea and gives it to Anji: Meine bhi woh poto dekha. Bibiji aur dactarsaab mast lagrahe hain saabji.
DB glares at CS: Tum wahaa kyon gaye the?
CS gives her a sullen look: I was missing bibiji. Aur uss din jab dactarsaab aaye the humaare ghar, tab unhone unke ghar ka pata diya aur bola jab dil karen aajaana. (He smiles in fond rememberance) Aaj toh bibiji ke haath ke paneer pakode bhi khaake aaya hoon DB! Memsaab ki yaad aagayi. Bibiji ke haathon mein bhi wahi jaadoo hain.
DB gets up and walks away. Undeterred, Anji continues: Aap ko pata hain uncle, jeejaji had a clean shaven look after marriage. Par madam ko pasand nahi aaya. She is making him grow his beard back again. Kehti hain..woh jaise hain waise hi achche hain. (She places her palm on CV's arm) Woh bahut khush hain uncle. Agar kami hain toh buss yahi ki aap aur DB uski khushi mein shaamil nahi hain. (CV locks his jaw before he too gets up and walks away from the room leaving Anji and CS sighing a little sadly but nodding at each other in silent understanding that they would continue to keep up their efforts.)
The next three weeks pass with Ashutosh and Nidhi getting into a routine at home and at work. After the initial hiccups of who should shower first and whose clothes should go where, one of the first things he does is getting her a new car so that she doesn't have to depend on him during the night shifts or even to come and go from the college. If their timings coincided, both left together in Nidhi's car and after the college, Nidhi spent her time in the library until he was done with his work in KGH and both came back together. Colleagues and friends slowly start getting used to seeing this odd couple as a "couple" and don't fail to notice the change this imp of a girl brought in the stern no nonsense dean of KGH. Now he has a relaxed air about him, he smiled more and his face visibly brightened whenever it fell on his young and usually chirpy wife. Flowers continue to get changed everyday and Ashu continues to bring one of them home to put it in the vase that now has its fixed place on the side table of their bed. His sleep turns restless and disturbed during her night shifts and they end up spending most of those nights exchanging sms.
Nidhi continues to run her fingers through his greying hair: Chweetu..
Ashu, who is resting his head in her lap and dozing after a hearty lunch mumbles sleepily: Hmmm?
Nidhi: I..I miss my baba Chweetu. I want to see him once. (Ashu opens his eyes to look at her sad face. She hastily continues) Baba and DB go to a temple every Sunday. Even I used to go with them. I want to go there today to see if..
Ashu bends her down to kiss her lips softly: We will go in the evening. Ok? (Nidhi nods and smiles. Ashu closes his eyes once again. She smiled and that's all that mattered to him.)
That evening: Hanuman Mandir:
The temple is still resounding with the sounds of the bells rung during the aarti as CV and DB make their way to the steps to sit for a while before heading back home.
DB's eyes glaze with tears: Ek woh din tha jab hum chaaron milkar harr ravivaar ko yahaa aate the. Mein, tum, Nandini aur Nidhi. Phir Nandini chaligayi aur hum teen aate the. Ab dekho toh..Ek din mein chalijaaungi aur..
CV: Bua..aap aisi baaten mat keejiye. (Right then his gaze falls on the couple who are climbing up the steps of the mandir. Nidhi and Ashutosh. She is dressed in a baby pink and black combination sari with her pallu covering her head and pooja ki thali in her hand and Ashu is in his usual formal shirt with sleeves rolled up and trousers. She looks at them and stops..a tentative happy smile on her lips and a kind of hopeful expectant look on her face. DB frowns at the silence from CV and turns to see what or rather who he is looking at. Her face brightens as she looks at Nidhi..in the traditional attire with the sindoor in her maang, bindi on her forehead, mangalsutra and the bangles adorning her hand and most of all the peaceful contentment on her face. Meri bachchi! DB's heart goes out to Nidhi but she forcibly makes herself look away. CV gets up) Chaliye bua. Apne ghar chalte hain. (And leaves without even giving his daughter a second look. Once DB is seated in the car, both of them look up at the steps to see Ashu putting a hand around Nidhi's shoulders in a one armed hug before gently guiding her into the temple. CV reluctantly confesses.) I saw them once before..you know. I had stopped at a traffic signal and saw Nidhi having ganne ka ras at one of the shops. He was also there. He refused to have it I think but I saw her laughing and pushing her glass to his mouth. I saw Ashutosh shaking his head with a smile before giving in and tasting it.
DB: Inn dono ko logon ki parvaah hain hi nahi lagta hain. Pata nahi kya kya baaten horahi hongi..
CV shakes his head: You know Nidhi bua. Usne mann banaliya toh buss banaliya. She is not going to give a hoot to what anyone says. Jo usko sahi lagta hain woh wahi karti hain.
DB snaps: Lekin hum toh aise nahi hosakte na. Jahaa bhi jaati hoon buss wohi darr lagarehta hain ki koi yeh na pooche suna hain ki aap ki ladki ghar se bhaagke apne se dugne umr ke aadmi ke saath shaadi karle? Ab chaloge bhi ya aur kuch dekhna baaki hain? (CV starts the car.)
In the mandir:
Ashu: Give them time Nidhi.
Nidhi nods: They would forgive us, wouldn't they?
Ashu nods: Yes. (He pushes back the tendrils of her hair falling over her forehead) Dil chota mat karo. Mein hoon na? (She nods) Now..where is my smile?
Nidhi smiles and looks at him: Aap ki smile?
Ashu nods and runs a hand over his beard: If you can say this is YOUR beard, then why can't that smile be mine?
A soft laugh escapes her: Not bad Dr Heartstone.
Ashu: Ab Dr Sweetheart ke sangat ka asar toh dikhega hi na. Chalo. (Both of them go into the temple and pray.)
A couple of days later: KGH Canteen: Lunch time:
A group of around 8 PG students, including Nidhi are sitting in a circle chatting and catching up. Topics shift from their classes to professors to night shifts before landing on the ever hot topic – Nidhi, Mrs Dean of KGH.
Jyothika: Nidhi..oops..sorry..Ma'am..(Nidhi throws a book at her and she ducks) Ab Mrs Dean ko aur kya bulaye yaar!
Nidhi: Shut up Jyothika! (Then she winks) Waise naam bura nahi hain. (She points her nose in the air) Mrs Dean! Waah! Has a nice solid ring to it. (Everyone dissolves in a fit of laughter)
Rihaan: Hey suna hain naye batch of interns aaye hain KGH mein! 7 of them. 4 boys and 3 girls. Dr Ranganath told me.
Priyanka munches on a few chips: Ab dekhna yeh hain ki Dr Heartstone introduction ke baad kitne bachte hain.
Nidhi giggles: I skipped that one that day.
Jyothika rolls her eyes: It wouldn't have made any difference. He had a soft spot for you from day one and it was way too obvious. Lekin mein aur Priyanka fasgaye uss din. (She clears her throat and tries to imitate) Dr Jyothika..yeh hospital hain fashion house nahi!
Nidhi starts shaking her head before the sentence is complete: Arre..aise nahi. Woh aise thodehi na bolte hain..
Priyanka: Tu karke dikhaana yaar. (Nidhi tries to say no but soon a chorus starts demanding her to imitate her husband in the dean mode.)
Nidhi sighs and relents, giggles a little before clearing her throat and adjusting her coat. She assumes a serious expression on her face and gets up: Dr Nidhi Verma..the 4th intern. (She raises her hand in a stalling gesture) Welcome to KGH. Normally you would have been shown to the door for showing up late on your first day but since I saw the situation, I can understand and you are excused. (A slight pause where she adjusts her imaginary eye glasses. Chuckles and whistles go around the canteen as the rest of the doctors also pull and turn their chairs to watch the show.) You are good at thinking on your feet and didn't panic. That's indeed a good quality. Please don't lose it. (She resumes her normal voice) Ek din kya hua Ranganath ne sir ko file laake dene mein derkardi. I was there. (She winks at Rihaan who gets up and takes the position of Ranganath by wiping the imaginary sweat on his forehead. Nidhi continues her show.) Dr Ranganath..yeh kya hain?
Rihaan: Sir..woh..mein..(Nidhi lifts her eyebrow just like Ashu drawing a huge round of applause from the audience) I got delayed sir..
Nidhi leans over the table by placing the tips of her fingers on it: How long have you been working here Ranganath? When I say now, I mean NOW. Not 10 minutes later and CERTAINLY NOT 20 minutes later. (Everyone laugh and start clapping again. Nidhi bows down at her waist in a thank you gesture..first to her centre, then to left and then to her right and comes face to face with the dean himself who is leaning against the entrance of the canteen for God knows how long and watching the whole show for God knows how long. Feet shuffle and people get up and start moving around and try to resume their conversation. Nidhi's face turns pink and then red before she gives a hasty look at others, bites her tongue before facing Ashu again. He gives her his typical Heartstone look complete with eyebrow raised before turning and walking out.
She quickly picks up her bag and runs out of the canteen after him: Chw..I mean..Sir..Dr Ashutosh..please wait. (She realizes that she is shouting and shuts up her mouth and stops running behind him. But her walk is brisk as she tries to catch up with his long legged stride. She sees him going into his cabin and goes after him after a cursory knock. She looks at him with a guilty naughty expression..an expression that makes him regret the fact that they are in the hospital where he can't do a damn thing. Some of his feelings must have shown in his face because her face lights up and if possible, her eyes become even naughtier. She backs up a step and asks innocently) Aap aise kya dekhrahe hain sir? Aap toh jaante honge na ki mein ek shaadi shuda ladki hoon.
He shakes his head at her super naughty expression: Nidhi don't you think you should leave all this to when we are at home where at least I can DO something about it?
Nidhi chuckles before nodding and backing off: Chalti hoon. Shaam ko milte hain. (Ashu nods) Sir..(He huffs a small laugh at the way she calls him and waits for her to continue) I love you sir. (And starts to run from the cabin only to run smack into Ranganath. Both stumble and back a couple of steps.) Oh..uh..Ranganath..hi..uh..sorry..I wasn't..sorry. (And quickly slips away with her face crimson red.)
Ranga clears her throat before looking at his boss whose cheeks are streaked with red. He coughs again: Good afternoon sir. I just wanted to introduce you to Dr Bhatt. Dr Bhatt, this is Dr Ashutosh, our dean. Dr Ashutosh, this is Dr Bhatt, Oncologist from Canada that I told you about?
Ashu shakes the man's hand: I have heard a lot about you. Thank you for coming Dr Bhatt.
Dr Bhatt nods: Not a problem. I will go through the reports once again before deciding on the next step. (Ashu nods and both men shake hands once again before taking leave.)
Once out of the cabin, Dr Bhatt turns towards Ranga: He is your dean? Dr Ashutosh? (Ranga nods) But I was told that he is a strict no nonsense kind of a guy!
Ranga: Absolutely sir. No two ways about it.
Dr Bhatt chuckles: The strict no nonsense guy knows the art of flirting, huh! (Ranga stumbles and Bhatt pats him consolingly) Don't worry about it. I have seen worse things at my hospital over there. It's all quite common in these environments. Doctors and nurses..doctors and juniors..rest assured. I won't tell anyone.
Ranga shakes his head vigorously: Sir..please..you misunderstand. Dr Nidhi is his wife.
Dr Bhatt stops walking: What?
Ranga nods: She worked here as an intern and they fell in love and got married about a month ago. She is now doing her MD Pead in KG medical college.
Dr Bhatt: Intern! But..he is what? 40?
Ranga smiles: He is 42. She is about 25.
Dr Bhatt raises his eyebrows and shakes his head before resuming his walk: And I thought US and Canada were strange places where weird things happen!
Ranga: Love can happen anywhere sir.
That night: AshNi's residence: Study room:
Nidhi looks up from her book and scribbling pad at Ashu, who comes and stands near the door: Aagaye? Baba aur HK ko drop kardiya JS mein? (Ashu nods) Yeh get together ka idea achcha hain. Baba took the music cds along with him you know. (Ashu enters the room and closes the door. Nidhi bites her lower lip and a look of anticipation enters her eyes) Aapne darwaaza kyon band kardiyaji?
Ashu folds his hands and leans against the closed door: Kaafi achcha nakal utaarti ho apne dean ki! (Nidhi bites her tongue but suppresses her giggle.) And what was all that about in my cabin?
Nidhi looks at him innocently: Ji..mein kuch samjhi nahi.
Ashu: You know what Dr Bhatt assumed? (Nidhi shakes her head but chuckles erupt between her closed lips) He thought I was flirting with my junior and it is paying off big time. He told Ranganath not to worry..that these things happen. (Nidhi bursts out laughing and falls back in the deewan holding on to her stomach. She tries to stop, takes one look at him and starts again. Ashu waits until she is done.) So..what were you saying this afternoon?
Ashu starts advancing towards her: Tum shaadi shuda ladki ho..
Nidhi nods and shows him her mangalsutra: Haan. Dekhiye..aur meri maang mein sindoor bhi hain.
She looks angelic and guileless..as if sugar wouldn't melt in her mouth. The little rogue! He thinks with tender amusement and comes and stands until he is almost over her: And you are sure your husband would mind if you..
Nidhi gives him a horrified expression: Yeh aap kya kehrahe hain sir? Pati hain woh mere. He would mind, wouldn't he?
Ashu gets down on his knees and pulls her up until she is also on her knees in front of him. His fingers glide over her face before sliding to her neck and chest: But somehow..I am sure he wouldn't mind if I do this. And..(he takes her hands and puts them over his shirt buttons) I think he would definitely approve if you did this.
Nidhi's nibble fingers start unbuttoning his shirt slowly but surely: You are sure my husband wouldn't mind, sir? Because..(She pushes the shirt away from his chest and rubs her face over his chest) because I just love doing this.
Ashu tunnels his fingers through her hair and closes his eyes as he guides her mouth: I am sure..I think he would be in the 7th heaven if you do this.
Nidhi's lips nip him softly making him groan: But sir..I love my husband so much. How can I..
This is new. This mixture of desire and amusement. With a soft laugh he puts his arms around her and topples her onto the deewan before falling on her but making sure his weight doesn't crush her: Oh..I am sure you love your husband. And he will not say no to something you want so much now, will he? (Lowering his head he kisses and licks at her smile as if he could taste it.)
Nidhi takes his hands in hers and pushes them under her night shirt, arching instinctively to give him better access: If that's the case..(Her own hands push and pull away with his clothing. By now, they are both breathing hard, gasping with their hearts pounding.)
Ashu undresses her with quick efficient movements: I do agree that an affair with my junior would look odd but what to do Dr Nidhi..we have to accept that somethings are beyond our control..right?
Nidhi nods and pushes him until he is flat on his back and she is astride him before attacking him with her lips, teeth and tongue: I agree sir. This is senseless (But by now her speech comes out a little slurred with passion and desire) and foolish..(She nicks his flat abdomen making him arch and growl)
Ashu's fingers grip fistful of the deewan spread: Ye..yes.
Nidhi: We have to stop.
Ashu: Not yet..not yet. (The feel of her lips on him snaps his control completely and he pulls her up over him and latches on to her breast) Your boss loves this Dr Nidhi. Nothing beats this. You should keep your boss happy, right?
Nidhi clutches his head and arches her back, her body seeking the intense pleasure that he is offering her: Oh please..yes..yes..thats..thats what my husband says too.
Ashu brings her over his lap and a guttural sound comes from his chest as he seems to reach a new place inside her. With every helpless movement she makes, he pulls her hips back to his, his fingers sliding across her with flirting strokes until their movements speed up and become almost desperate..until both of them spliter and fall apart in each other's arms. Panting he hugs her tight: You do have a way with your dean Dr Nidhi. That was amazing.
Nidhi places a soft tired kiss over his chest before settling herself down comfortably on top of him: Thank you sir.
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Joined: 05 June 2012
After 6 months: At a park:
HK is walking beside BB: Yeh achcha hain Mathur saab. Sab kaam chodke mein bhi aapke saath walking subah subah!
BB laughs: Walking zaroori hain Hiraman. Ab iss umr mein hum unn dono ki tarah squash toh nahi khelsakte na!
HK nods: Haan..aur subah ka chai naashta toh Nidhi bitiya hi samgbhaalti hain.
BB nods: She is a nice girl Hiraman. You know, I used to worry that he would never like a girl or get married par der se hi lekin mere bete ne ek hire jaise ladki ko chuna hain.
HK looks at BB: Aap ko kabhibhi unn dono ke umr ke faasle ke baare mein darr nahi laga Mathur saab?
BB thinks back: I was taken aback initially. But..Hiraman..zindagi ne mujhe yehi sikhaaya hain ki kuch cheezen humaare samajh ke baahar hoti hain. Agar Bhagwaan ne inn dono ki jodi banaayi hain toh koi na koi wajah toh hogi na. Aur Nidhi bhi apne umr ke hisaab se kaafi matured hain. Jiss tarah se woh Ashu ke jeevan mein ghulmilgayi hain, kya farak padta hain.
HK nods: Humaara Ashu bahut khush hain Mathur saab. Pichle ki dard ya tadap nahi hain usme. He is content and happy..even joyful. Jistarah se woh aajkal hasta hain gaata hain..aap ne dekha?
BB: Haan. (He gives a sad kind of smile) You know na Hiraman he was just 7 or 8 when I got him. After his father was convicted, the child service people asked me what I intended to do with him. I told them he will be my son from this day on. He was standing there, right beside me..thin, frail, his wide innocent eyes staring at some distant skies. I could feel the waves of his fear reaching and touching me, you know. One father already abused him and now another guy is saying he will be the father. He used to hide under the bed in the night..never spoke much. He was shivering and stammering the first time he came to ask me if he has any clothes to wear. Khelkood ki baat chodo, it took me 2 years to get him to smile. Even after he started trusting me, I think for a very long time he felt that I had no choice where he was concerned..that he was kind of dumped into my lap. I think that's why Nidhi's effect on him is so strong. Not only the fact that he is crazily in love with her but also that she CHOSE him over the whole world..even her own family.
HK nods in agreement: Pehle toh I used to find it odd..the way she pampers him and all..but then I saw that he loves that. (He grins) I think sometimes he deliberately eats less just to get the scoldings from her.
BB laughs: It works both ways na. Do you see the way he coaches her in her studies? Pakka khadak master banjaata hain. And he takes her career more seriously than she does. The other day he was talking to me about whether should remain a doctor in KGH or in some other hospital or get her open her own practice. Said..if she works in KGH, people would say dean got her the job and her talent would never be recognized that way.
HK: I just wish Nidhi ke gharwaale bhi ab maanjaay Mathur saab. Usko apne baba ki bahut yaad aati hogi na.
BB: Haan Hiraman. Even I am praying for the same. Anji kehrahi thi ki Sarojji ka pighalna shuru hogaya hain. Now, she looks forward to Anji's visits so that she can get Nidhi's news. Waise Ashu doesn't let Nidhi be down for long. Kaise bhi karke uski hasi waapas laakar hi rehta hain. (He glances at the watch.) Chalo. Ab toh naashte ka waqt bhi hogaya. Ghar chalte hain. (Both men come out of the park and make their way home.)
About the same time: At the squash court:
Nidhi collapses on the bench and wipes her sweat as she waits for her husband to complete the game and come out. A man comes and sits on the next bench and gives her a polite smile: I enjoyed watching your play. (Nidhi smiles and he gestures towards Ashu) Woh aapke..uncle hain?
She grins and shakes her head and she gets up, picks the water bottle and backpack as she watches Ashu come out of the court: He is my husband. (Before he could stumble out an apology, she continues) and thanks for the compliment. Bye. (And walks away. Both of them sit in the car with Nidhi in the driver seat.)
Ashu takes the water bottle: So..who am I this time around? Big brother or uncle or father?
Nidhi chuckles: Uncle.
Ashu shakes his head with a rueful smile: After 6 months, I thought people would have got used to it. (Nidhi laughs and pulls his cheek before starting the car.)
BB looks up: Aagaye tum dono? Kaisa raha aaj ka match?
Ashu: Poochiye mat baba. Iss ladki ko squash mein koi interest nahi hain.
Nidhi: Oye hello..I won the match today.
Ashu rolls his eyes: Yeah..yeah! Baba, she never takes the game seriously. Wahaa pe bhi apni masti!
Nidhi puts her fists on her waist: It's a game sirji. Its not meant to be taken seriously. Baba, yeh toh aise khelte hain jaise khel nahi koi jung ho.
Ashu: And you don't play at all. Koi rules nahi koi regulations nahi. And the only way you win is by cheating.
Nidhi: Mein cheating karti hoon? (Ashu nods and BB silently opens the newpaper.) Mein? (Ashu nods again. Nidhi stomps her foot in anger and goes off to their room. Ashu exchanges a small smile with BB before following her.)
He leans against the door frame and observes his wife throwing the backpack in one corner before picking up the towel. His voice softly starts humming: Dekho roota na karo..baat nazron ki suno..
Nidhi glares at him as she replies: Hum na bolenge kabhi..tum sataya na karo..
She throws his towel at him and pushes him towards the bathroom. He wraps the same towel around her and pulls her along with him: khuli palak mein jhoota gussa band palak mein pyaar..jeena bhi mushkil..marna bhi mushkil..
Nidhi's glare slowly turns into a pout before becoming a smile as she tries to pull herself out of his arms: Chod do aachal zamaana kya kahega..
Ashu pushes her into the bathroom before closing the door and locking it. Seconds later warm water sluices their bodies as Ashu cages her in his arms: Inn adaon ka zamaana bhi hain deewana..deewana kya (His song ends abruptly as she leans against the wall and opens her arms to him. With the shower beating down on them, their bodies recreate the magical dance that's just theirs alone.)
The next day: In KGH: Ashu's cabin:
Ashu throws the head cap and face mask on the table before taking his phone out in the draw. He frowns at the display. 6 missed calls from Anji. He clicks the call back button but hardly gets a chance to say hello before Anji starts her usual chatter.
Anji: Kya jeejaji..kitne time se try kar rahi hoon. Phone kyon nahi utaya? Mujhse naraaz hain? Pata hain subha se 6 baar try karchuki hoon.
Ashu smiles as he settles down in his chair: Aap se naaraaz kaise hosakte hain saali sahiba! I was in the OT since morning. Boliye..kya hukum hain.
Anji laughs: Jeeju aap sach mein bahut sweet ho. Pata hain..uss din aap aur Nidhi mere college aaye the na..mujhe pick karne, tabse mere saare friends aap pe fida hogaye hain. One is even planning to get "A" tattoed on her arm. (She laughs as she imagines her jeeju's horrified expression) Don't worry. I am just kidding. Waise I just called to tell you that tomorrow is Nidhi's birthday. Aap ko pata hain kya?
Ashu closes his eyes: Haan Anji. Pata hain. I knew it last year too. But..
Anji sighs: Last year ki baat mat keejiye Jeej. Aunty guzargayi thi aur aap chalegaye the..Nidhi was like some zombie that day. (She cheers him and herself up) Par issbaar kuch special keejiyena aap Nidhi keliye. I know I am kind of interfering but..
Ashu cuts her: Anji..you are not interfering. I know what you are saying. I agree with you. I was thinking..may be all 4 of us can go to that dhaba that she loves..woh jo Lucknow Delhi highway pe hain na..
Anji: Aap dono jaayiye na. Beech mein kabab mein haddi kyon?
Ashu: With your exams and her studies, you guys hardly get time to catch up and chat Anji. She misses you.
Anji's entire face softens: Aapko pata hain..when Nidhi first told me that she is in love with you, I kind of got worried and panicked. But I should have known. Her selection is always superb. (Ashu gives an awkward laugh) Achcha teek hain. Sab milke chalte hain. Ranga and I will come to your place and we will leave from there.
Anji: And jeeju, thank you for talking to Ranganath about the wedding date. When his parents had come to meet na, I myself wanted to tell them to wait until after my finals par mein bahut dar gayi thi. I so wanted to ask you and Nidhi to come and talk.
Ashu sighs: Anji..Nidhi and I being there would have only increase the awkwardness. You understand na. And as for the marriage date, Ranganath is a sensible guy.
Anji jumps up a little: But all the same, if you hadn't talked to him pata nahi kya hota. So..thank you jeejaji. Chaliye ab rakhti hoon.
Ashu: Bye. (Ashu cuts the call, ponders a little bit before dialing another number.) Hello? Col. Verma, Mein Ashutosh..(silence is the only reply he gets. Ashu sighs.) Sir, I know you are angry with me. Lekin kal aapki beti ka janamdin hain. Aur uski khushi uske poore parivaar ke bina adhoori hain. Kal agar aap humaare ghar aayenge toh..(He hears the phone getting disconnected and closes his eyes. Nidhi..I am sorry Nidhi. I am sorry I made you choose. I am sorry I took your family away from you. I know you never blamed me..not once. He rubs his palms over his face. God mein kya karu! How long would this go on..how long before Nidhi starts regretting making her choice..He shakes his head forcefully as if forcefully dislodging that thought. No. She wouldn't regret. Not my Nidhi. She loves me. She is happy with me. And I will do everything in my power to make sure she stays that way.)
Midnight: AshNi's bedroom:
Ashu shuts the beeper quickly, rolls and wraps himself around his wife from behind. With a soft hum she pushes herself closer to him and pulls his palm under her cheek. He nuzzles his face in her neck and gives her a soft nick: Happy birthday!
Nidhi blinks her eyes open and turns towards him. With a happy grin and pulls him over her and hugs him: Thank you Chweetu. Aapko kaise pata?
Ashu settles himself over her comfortably as her body completely cushions his. He unbuttons and pushes her night shirt away before resting his head on her chest with a blissful sigh: I knew it last year too Nidhi. I even bought a gift for you. But..
Nidhi starts to push him away: You bought a gift for me? (He nods) Last year? (He nods again) When you were in Delhi? Hatiye hatiye..I want to see. Where is it? Oh please..dikhayiye na..I want to see. Aur iss saal ka gift kya hain? Mujhe dono chahiye.
Ashu places a tender kiss on the place where his head was resting a moment ago before getting up and opening the bed side draw and pulling out two gift wrapped boxes. One a long rectangular box and another a small square one: Happy birthday.
Nidhi switches on the light and sits on her knees all trace of sleep completely vanished as her eyes sparkle with excitement: Last year wala kaun sa hain? (Ashu gives the rectangle one. She snatches it, smacks his cheek with a resounding kiss and tears the wrapper open as Ashu watching her with a look of utter contentment on his face. Inside is a beautiful platinum bracelet with a small flower joining both the ends. Nidhi touches it softly with slightly trembling fingers before looking at him with tear glazed eyes) You got this for me last year? (He silently picks it up and puts it around her wrist. Their lips meet in a soul searing kiss and minutes tick by as they take their fill of each other and together push away those painful days from their memory. Both of them are panting by the time they come up for air.) Iss..iss saal wala gift kahaa hain? (He extends the second one and she opens it a little slowly. The box opens to display a spectacular set of single diamond ear rings set in a gold setting.) You planning to spend all your savings before our first wedding anniversary? (Ashu frowns and she grins before smoothing down the frown with her fingers. She kisses them before quickly putting them on and showing it to him by pushing her hair away.) Kaisa dikhraha hain?
Ashu just looks at her before placing a kiss of salutation on her forehead: Nidhi..you are happy, aren't you?
Nidhi frowns before crawling into his lap and sitting astride. She loops her arms around him: What kind of a question is that Chweetu? I love you and I am loving the life that I am living with you. Kabhi kabhi toh jeekarta hain ek bada sa box lelu aur saare yaadien ko usme chupaakar rakhdoo. The last 7 months have been..beautiful and precious. (She cuddles up to him and rests her head on his chest. His arms close around her in respose.) Waise aap itne sochte kyon hain? I will tell you if I had any problem na.
Ashu tightens his arms and closes his eyes: I feel guilty for making you choose Nidhi. Your baba lost his wife and I took his only daughter away from him.
Nidhi: Mere baba hume accept karenge Chweetu. Aap dekhiyega. He loves me too much. Its just that he feels let down and hurt right now. I know that in his heart of hearts he trusts my judgement. Army waale hain na..he won't accept defeat so easily. He will come. He will bless both of us and soon will start bossing you around too.
Ashu falls back on the bed with her still on his lap and in his arms. He pushes her night shirt away and hides his face in her neck with her long hair covering him in a kind of dark heaven: Nidhi..the ever optimist. Mine..all mine!
No matter how many times she hears that tone of possessiveness from him, it never fails to squeeze her heart. Is he telling me or reassuring himself? She smothers his face and neck with small pecks before pushing his t shirt up and away from him before directing her lips to attack his chest: Uh huh..all yours..forever yours. And YOU, Dr Ashutosh Mathur, are MINE! You better..(Her soft bite makes him arch up and growl) you better remember that when that..that intern starts flirting with you again.
Ashu rolls until she is under him once again. His nibble fingers undress her under a minute: Which intern?
Nidhi moans as his lips play havoc with her ear but manages to growl: That girl..Binat..I saw the way she looks at you. I don't like it. Tell her that you are married and that you love your wife very much. You know..this is not fair. Girls have mangalsutra and sindoor to tell the world that they are married. How come..ahhh..don't stop..oh..I love it when you do that.
His lips leave her body for a moment: How come what?
Nidhi pushes his head back, silently demanding to resume what he has stopped: How come men don't have anything that shows that they are married?
Ashu's chuckle is swolled up by her lips: You want me to have the sindoor or the mangalsutra?
Nidhi giggles as she imagines the scenario and pushes him back onto the pillows before climbing on top of him: Better yet. I will give you a hicky. (She touches his neck) Here. You are in your scrubs most of the day and the whole of KGH along with that Binat can see it and back off. (And proceeds to do just that.)
The next day morning: Verma residence:
CV closes the album and places it back in his cupboard. Happy birthday beta. Have a wonderful day and a beautiful year. I know you probably think I am heartless and can't forgive you. Kya karu. I always thought Nidhi meri beti hain. Jo mein kahoonga woh baat uske sar aankhon par. Meri beti meri baat KABHI nahi taalegi. Meri kheenchi hui lakeer KABHI paar NAHI karegi. But the fact that you chose someone else over me..your own baba..you chose someone you hardly knew over ME..the fact that my trust got smashed to pieces in one shot..you couldn't wait for a while? Or try to explain things to me? I know you and Anji have probably planned this. She comes here frequently to give your news and tell me that you are happy and content in your life..that AShutosh and his family takes good care of you. Anji toh uske jeejaji ke khilaaf ek lafz bhi nahi sunti. I guess now..even I have started to look forward to her visits. (He sighs.) Dekhte hain..shaayad..but when I heard his voice yesterday..it was like..
DB: Yog! YOG! (DB enters CV's room and sits on the chair with a helpless look on her face and pain in her eyes) Aaj bachchi ka janam din hain. Kuch yaad bhi hain ki nahi? (CV nods) Tujhe kya lagta hain..uske pati ko pata hoga?
CV hesitates before finally saying: Anji..bataarahi thi ki shaam ko chaaron milkar baahar jaarahe hain. Nidhi ke favourite dhabe par. She said he knows.
DB: Anji aaj jaayegi na usse milne. Mein usko uske mann pasand gulaab jaamun banaake bhejdoongi. (CV opens his mouth only to have DB fairly scream at him) BUSS..tum na baat karna chaahte toh na sahi. I can't be that way any more. You don't want me to go to her house. Fine. I won't go. But I can't cut off my relations with her like that. Arre..ma na sahi lekin ma ki tarah toh paala hain na meine. Mein bhejrahi hoon BUSS. Iske aage tumne kuch bola toh meri kasam. (And stomps away towards the kitchen screaming for CS)
A little after breakfast: AshNi's residence:
Anji comes into the house singing: Happy birthday to you dear Ni..dhi..
Nidhi comes out of the kitchen and hugs her: Thank you Anji.
BB: Good morning Anji beta. Sabse pehle yeh batao Nidhi ki saari kaisi hain. My gift.
Anji looks at Nidhi in her peacock blue and silver sari: Waah uncleji..aapke selection ka toh jawab nahi. Jeej ne kya diya? (Nidhi shows her earrings and Anji exclaims) HAAA..wow! Kya baat hain jeejaji..maanna padega! (And gives a flying kiss to Ashu only to earn a hard slap on her back from Nidhi) Ouch..maarti kyon ho yaar! Jeejaji dekhiye na..aapki biwi dinbadin violent hoti jaarahi hain. (Ashu coughs into his tea before wiping his mouth and adjusting his shirt collar. Nidhi smothers her laugh and sends him a subtle wink.) Nidhi..I got something for you. (Saying that she extends the steel snack box to her.)
Nidhi opens it and grins: Gulab jamun? Thanks Anji. (She picks one and puts it in her mouth. After chewing a couple of times, her eyes fill up as she looks at Anji) Yeh..yeh DB ne bheja hain na Anji? Sach bata..(Anji nods and both friends hug each other tightly with Ashu and BB exchanging a look of surprise and tentative relief. Ashu gets up and comes to Nidhi as the friends draw apart, wipes her tears and softly pats her cheek.)
Anji: DB called me this morning and gave this Nidhi. Uncle was also there. He didn't say anything but he didn't stop her either.
Ashu: Nidhi..chalo..tumhaare baba se milke aate hain. (Nidhi nods at BB and HK before going up to get her bag.)
Anji: Ab mein nikalti hoon. Shaam ko milte hain jeejaji. Tell Nidhi that she will get her gift in the evening.
BB: Bye beta. (Once Anji leaves, BB looks at Ashu) Are you going to go their house?
Ashu: Nahi baba. We will go to the orphanage. We were anyway planning to give some gifts to the boys over there. Issi bahaane milna bhi hojaayega. (BB nods and soon the couple leave.)
About an hour later: Nandini home for boys:
CV, from his place at the class room door, turns to look at the approaching car. His smile of welcome freezes on his face as he sees his daughter and son in law getting down from it. Nidhi gives him a tentative smile as Ashu goes to open the trunk and take out the packets they had bought to distribute among the boys. Why am I not surprised? I guess I knew in my heart of hearts that she would come here today. The boys, already anticipating her arrival have been busy making greeting cards the last couple of days. Right on cue, there is a shout from within the class and all the boys come running out to meet their Nidhi didi. Her tentative smile turns into grin as she looks at them and accepts all their wishes, hugging the younger ones and shaking hands with the older ones.
Nidhi: I got something for all of you. (A big cheer goes around in the crowd.) But first, I want to introduce you all to someone.
One boy pipes out: We know him didi. We saw him in the function last year.
Nidhi nods: Haan. Ab yeh mere husband hain. Dr Ashutosh. (Ashu smiles and waves at them and they chorus out a Namaste sir.) Ab chalo. Sab log andar chalo and I will show you what I got for you. (They pull Nidhi along with them and all through this CV remains standing in the same place with a complete neutral expression on his face. As soon as Nidhi goes inside, he turns to go in the opposite direction but Ashu's words stop him in his tracks.)
Ashu: Aapki beti aapse milne aayi hain sir. Woh aapko bahut miss karti hain. She always talks about you. I once asked her how come she is so matured in her thinking and she said its all because of my baba. Unhone zindagi mein bahut kuch dekha hain..aur zindagi se bahut kuch sikha hain. And whatever he learnt, he taught me. (He stuffs his hands in his trouser pockets and goes closer to CV.) Don't punish your daughter for what I did sir. Inn sab mein Nidhi ki koi galti nahi hain. I pushed her away once for lots of reasons. And once I got back and pounced the marriage proposal on her, I think she got scared that if she asked for more time from me, I would leave her again. I had promised her I wouldn't. Par baat kehne mein aur wohi baat maanne mein farak hota hain na. And I promise you..mein aapki beti par aanch nahi aanedoonga. I know I am not the ideal partner for her in your eyes but..
Nidhi's voice makes them both turn: Chale?
Ashu looks at her looking at her baba with a small smile: Baba..DB se kahiye mujhe gulab jaamun bahut pasand aaye.
She bends to touch his feet but he steps back: Humaare ghar mein ladkiyan paau nahi chooti. (And walks away inside without a backward glance.)
Ashu puts his arm around her: He will come around soon Nidhi. Don't give up.
Nidhi swallows before squaring her shoulders and facing her husband with a determined smile: Give up? Woh kya hota hain Chweetu? (He pats her cheek in appreciation and she loops her arm through his.) Chaliye..aaj classes nahi hain lekin library mein kaam hain.
A couple of days later: AshNi's residence:
Ashu comes fresh out of shower rubbing his hair with a towel: Nidhi, back from the nightshift already?
Nidhi plops down on the bed: hmmm
Ashu comes and sits beside her: Hey whats this? Aise hospital kapdom mein hi letgayi. Come on, get up and change. Nidhi! don't be..(He catches her arm as if pulling her to get up only to realize that she is literally burning up) NIDHI? You have fever? (Panic seizes him.) Nidhi! come on open your eyes and answer me. Since when do you have the temperature? KAKA! Get some water in a bowl and a towel please!
Nidhi squints her eyes open a bit: I think last night. I was feeling odd. Body pains. Took a paracetamol. Urrgghh. I feel so cold Chweetu. Help! Do something.
AShu: Shhh. Ok relax. KAKA! Where are you?
BB: Ashu, what happened? Hiraman went to the market.
Ashu: Nidhi is burning up with fever baba. Stay here please and I will go and get some water for spunging and a thermometer.
BB comes and covers her with blanket, feels her forehead, checks her pulse and examines her with his steth. AShu rushes to the medicine cabinet and gets a crocin pain relief.
BB removes the steth: Looks like some kind of viral Ashu. Her chest is a bit congested too.
Ashu growls: Viral toh hogi na baba..kaise birthday ke din Anji aur yeh madam chaar chaar icecream khaaliye the..aur ooper se baarish mein bhi bheege the. Ranga and I kept telling par yeh dono sune tab na. (He shakes his head and makes a quick call to Ranga and instructs him to reschedule all his appointments. He is going to take off for the next couple of days unless there is an emergency. Then he props up Nidhi, gives her the medication and some ORS just in case. BB leaves the room and Ashu quickly spunges her body with a damp cloth until temperature goes down a bit. He dresses her in her PJs and covers her up with blanket again. All through this, Nidhi is completely out of it. Once the temp is gone down, he forcefeeds a few bites of bread before giving her the antibiotic. News travels fast so in a few mins Anji calls Ashu: Jeeju, whats wrong? Ranga said Nidhi is not well and you took off?
Ashu: Fever Anji. I think some kind of viral. I started the antibiotic but it will take a few days to recover.
Anji: Want me to come over?
Ashu: Today I think I will be here. But tomorrow I have a surgery that can't be postponed. So will need your help tomorrow.
Anji: Sure. I will be there. Sorry jeej..I guess icecream kuch zyaada hi hogaya.
Ashu sees Nidhi moving: Its ok. Don't worry about it. Its just a viral. Am I reassuring Anji or myself? Listen Anji, I will talk to you later, ok?
Anji: Bye. Call if you need anything.
The next few days pass in a haze for Nidhi as Ashu and Anji take turns in taking care of her. Even BB joins them and tries feeding her some rasam rice. When Nidhi protests, all he said was, "You did it for me, now its my turn. No talk. Only eat." On the third day, Nidhi comes down slowly to the sound of the landline ringing and lifts it up as she is the one closest: Hello? (silence) Hello? (Still no answer but Nidhi starts coughing. BB and HK come running. HK takes the phone away from her hand and glares at her.)
BB: Beta, kuch chahiye kya? Why did you come down? You need rest.
HK: Ab chupchaap andar jaao bahu mein dood mein haldi daalke leke aata hoon. Peelena.
BB: No more talking. Aaj badi mushkil se Ashu ko KGH bheja hain meine. Usko pata chalgaya ki tum utkar kaam karnelagi ho toh mujhe daant padegi. Chalo.
Nidhi grins weakly: Kaka..phone. (BB helps her back to her bed)
HK says hello but by now, the phone gets disconnected by CV. When Anji had told him about Nidhi falling sick, his instinct had been to run to her. Finally, he couldn't hold back any more and called Ashu's residence number and heard his daughter being pampered by not one but all the 3 men in the house. Shyama, who has just walked into the house, sees him disconnecting the phone: Kyon bhai saab..aakhir raha nahi gaya na..beti ke bina!
(CV doesn't reply and Shyaman continues) Buss..ab bahut hogaya bhai saab. You are not talking to her and refused to let buaji go there..buaji toh do din se teek se khapee bhi nahi rahe hain..subah se shaam tak mandir mein rehti hain. Whatever happened has happened. Nidhi married Dr Ashutosh and is happy in her life. Anji aur CS hume pal pal ki khabar dete hain na. Ab kissbaat par aap apne zidd par ade hain? Jo hochuka woh hochuka. Jinn logon ko bolna tha woh bolchuke. Agar aap ko samaaj ki fikr hain aur woh samaaj aapki beti ko taana maar raha hain, toh kya aap iss ladai mein aapki beti ka saath nahi denachaahenge? (CV gives a kind of startled look to Shyama before turning back to face the open window. Kiss muh se jaaunga bhabhi! All these months I rebuffed every overture made by Ashutosh and Dr Mathur. Ab milu bhi toh kaise?)
Unless he had to go to KGH, Ashu spent all his time with Nidhi and BB realizes that when it comes to Nidhi, his son forgets that he himself is a doctor. It has taken about 5-6 days but finally Nidhi is on the path of complete recovery and everyone breathes a sigh of relief.
On the 6th day night:
Nidhi gets up from her place in the sofa to the sound of the door bell and opens the door to Ashu: Hi!
Ashu looks at her..the tension and weariness slowly ebbing away from his body: Hey..how are you feeling now?
Nidhi, even as a new bride, had quickly caught on the fact that he loved it when she opened the door for him. But today, all though there is that relief in his eyes, that usual joy is missing. She frowns as she closes the door behind him: I am fine. Back to normal. Kal se college bhi jaaungi. (Ashu nods and sits down on the sofa with his head leaning back and eyes closed. She comes and sits beside him.) Kya hua?
Ashu shakes his head: Nothing. I..lost a patient today.
Nidhi: Tumour ka case tha?
Ashu: No. That idiot had locked himself out of his house and got the brilliant idea to jump into his balcony from his neighbour's. 4th Floor. (He shakes his head.) Log sochte kyon nahi Nidhi? How much would it have cost him to break open the door? I felt so damn helpless. It was too late. I was too late. 37 years old..married. He had 2 small daughters..a wife.. parents..family..
Nidhi smiles sadly to herself. And he thinks he is like his biological father! Wordlessly, she goes and gets him a glass of water. He gulps it down in one go before putting it carelessly on the floor and pulling her closer to him. The next moment he wraps his arms around her waist and rubs his face over her tummy. Her fingers run through his slightly greying hair: You did everything that you could Chweetu. (And who better than you to know that somethings are not in our hands. She quickly blinks and tries to cheer him up a little.) Come..I will give you a nice massage. You will feel better. (His only reply is to tighten his arms around her and push her sari away from her tummy with his cheek and nose as his mouth opens to lick and taste her. She bites her lower lip before going down on her knees before him and kissing him fully on his lips.)
He pulls away with a harsh, almost painful sound: Baba..kaka..
Nidhi: Baahar gaye hain.
As if that's all that is needed to break his control, he follows her down onto the carpet. With slightly trembling fingers he undresses her and himself, almost tearing away the buttons of his shirt. He pulls her over his lap and gives her a small shake as her eyes drift close: Nidhi..no. Look at me. I want to look into your eyes as I drown myself in you. Don't close your eyes. (Pure bliss envelopes him as she takes him into her warmth.) Yes..yes..yes..mujhe apna banaalo Nidhi. Nidhi..!
6 weeks later:
Nidhi is still reeling from her appointment with Dr Kothari. What do I do? Should I tell him or wait for a few more days? But how does waiting change anything? May be I am needlessly worrying. He has changed so much in so many ways since our marriage. May be he would be happy..may be he would..!! She slowly makes her way to the study where Ashu is busy on his laptop gathering some info on a particular type of tumour which is going to operate on in a couple of days. He raises his head when she enters and closes the door, gives her an abstract distracted smile before going back to his work.
Nidhi: Ji, mujhe aap se kuch kehna hain.
AShu's eyes are still glued to the laptop: Haan Nidhi, bolo.
Nidhi swallows, braces herself and says: I am pregnant.
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Absolute silence greets Nidhi's statement. She wets her lips and grips the table corner as she waits for his response but he seems to have turned into a statue. Slowly he raises his head and look at her with freezing cold eyes and asks in a cold deadly soft voice: What. Did. You. say?
Nidhi swallows down her fear and repeats: I am pregnant. 6 weeks.
Ashu: Are you really sure?
Nidhi: I met Dr Kothari this evening on my way back from college. You were in OT at that time.
Ashu: You said you are on a pill!
His eyes blaze in fury: You slipped?
Nidhi: No but..
The coldness in his voice is even more deadly than his anger: You planned this?
Nidhi staggers back at that accusation: Do you really think I would do something like that?
Ashu scatters the papers on the table with a swipe of his hand: How do I know what you do or do not do? I trusted you to make sure this situation doesn't arise and..
Nidhi interrupts: And I didn't betray your trust. Not even when I was delirious with fever. I didn't miss my pill even then. But apparently it some times doesn't work when taken along with antibiotics. Which is what happened in this case. I was still off and weak but assumed it was due to residual viral infection. So I went to Dr Kothari today for a check up. She did the routine exam, got me tested and..found out..
Ashu slams the laptop shut with one hand and leaves the room without a backward glance. Nidhi stares at the door from which he left as if willing him to come back. But the resounding slam of the front door indicates that her husband has not only left the room but also the house. Where would he go at this time of the night? Then she knew. Squash..his all time method of venting out his feelings. Although after the marriage, it became a form of pleasurable exercise. She smiles a little in fond rememberance of all the times they went to the squash court and how he taught her the game, but fear replaces that smile the next moment. She had thought she had all the time in the world. That she would find a way to reassure him and he himself would want a child of his own one day. That it would be a joint decision after they slayed the dragons of his past. But instead, fate threw them into this unexpected curve. God! Please give me enough strength to be with him and fight for him. Please!
BB: Nidhi, beta, what are you doing here alone? Where is Ashu?
Nidhi straightens and pastes a smile on her face: He went out for a while baba. I am just going through..(She vaguel gestures the laptop and books before bending to pick up the scattered papers.)
BB: achcha achcha teek hain. but its quite late and you have to go to college tomorrow. Get some sleep. ok? oh..you said you were going to meet Dr Kothari today. How did it go? Everything ok?
Nidhi's artificial smile slips: Ji. Ji baba. Everything..is..fine. Aap jaake sojayiye baba. Goodnight.
BB: Goodnight beta.
Nidhi slowly makes her way to the balcony and sits with her back to the wall to begin her silent vigil. Her fingers grip her mangalsutra and her eyes close in silent prayer for his safety and well being. And that's how Ashu finds her around 2 in the morning. She has gone off to sleep with her hand still holding her mangalsutra and her head titled a little to the side. He comes close and gives a helpless look at her sleeping face. Young innocent vulnerable sleeping face. He knew he shouldn't have married her in the first place. He shouldn't have pulled her along with him into his past. That was his burden and his alone. He had no right to drag her into this. But he couldn't resist her. From the moment she fell into his arms that day in KGH, he had never been the same. He had built a wall around his heart and she took it apart brick by brick with every meeting, every look, every smile. He left her but his selfish heart sent him back to her again. Each snide comment of the society that came her way was like the lash of his father's belt to him but she took it with a smile on her face. The only thing that mattered to her was that she loved him. That's it. For her, that was the focal point of everything. And slowly he learnt to not let those words matter. He knew only too well – better than most – that the world would be a cold harsh place. But she came along and showed him that no matter what kind of hells surround you, I am there to care for you and love you..that I would always be there for you. Hell! She was even prepared to kill the love she had for children of her own for his sake. Whenever he saw her with kids and how good she was with them, he felt like a real low life bas***d for demanding that sacrifice from her. Yet, she understood his silent struggle and came forward time and again to reassure him. And today, in his anger, he accused her of..(his fingers form into fists remembering his words. He slowly goes down on his hunches beside her and cups her cheek.) "Nidhi?" (Her sleepy eyes open. A soft smile forms on her lips before awareness creeps back and brings fear along with it.) Aap? Aaap aagaye? You must be tired na. Want to have a shower?
Her concern for him in the current situation is like a slash of knife to his heart. He just pulls her into a hard hug: No. I don't want anything. I just want you.
Nidhi sighs in relief: And you will always have me Chweetu. Always.
He just tightens his hug in response: Nidhi, I am sorry for all the things I said in the study. It..it took me by surprise and I..
Nidhi looks up at him with a hopeful look and smile: No apology required. I understand. Its ok. Forget it. Come. Lets go inside.
Ashu stops her movement to get up, locks his jaw, closes his eyes for a second and braces himself before saying: Nidhi, I am not ready for this. I can't do it. Would you..can you..terminate?
Horror dawns in her face and she backs away from him instinctively cupping her palms around her tummy as if protecting the inner life: NO! How can you..I can't..(Then she looks at his pain filled eyes and slides back to him to cup his face in her hands) Please chweetu..please don't say that. I have a part of you inside me. Don't ask me to destroy it. Everything will be alright. You'll see. You are not your father. I am not your mother. And our child..
Ashu pulls away from her: I knew you would say that. I didn't want to ask you for it. But I had to try. (He turns away from her) I will contact the lawyer tomorrow and arrange for a divorce.
Nidhi staggers back under the impact of the words. Her voice becomes thready: Wh..what did you say?
Ashu: You can't have us both Nidhi. You want the child. Fine. But you have to let me go. I will make sure I never..(His sentence gets abruptly cut off as she swings him to face her and slaps him hard across his cheek. His face snaps to the side and soon the cheek turns red.)
Nidhi's face is equally red as she battles pain and anger: HOW DARE YOU! HOW DARE YOU Dr ASHUTOSH MATHUR! (She catches hold of his shirt collar with both her hands and shakes him) What do you think of yourself? You can waltz in and out of my life as you wish? What do you take me for? 18 saal aapse choti hoon iska yeh matlab nahi ki aap mujhe ek chote bachchi samajhle aur haath mein lollipop thamakar jaane ko kahe. (It suddenly dawns on her that she has slapped her husband and her expression turns contrite and horrified. She stumbles back before rushing forward again and cupping his cheeks in silent apology. Her eyes slowly turn bright with determination.) NO. I WILL NOT CHOOSE. I WANT BOTH AND I WILL HAVE BOTH. And don't you dare to think of leaving me and go off gallivanting again. I will literally tie myself to you if need be but I WILL NOT leave your side. Not in this life time. You got that Dr Ashutosh?
Joy and pain wage war in his face: But Nidhi..
Nidhi: Chup. Bilkul chup. Not one word. Now listen to me. We will face this together. You do understand the meaning of together, don't you? We will conquer your past and your fears. We will NOT let it ruin our present and future. Are you listening, Dr Ashutosh? WE not I not you. WE.
His eyes fill up and lips tremble at her words: You can't fight family history and genes Nidhi.
Nidhi's eyes spark with pure stubbornness: I will prove it to you that having your father's genes does NOT turn you into your father.
Ashu shakes his head: But..
Nidhi cuts him: We will look for the best pshychiatrist or psychologist or whatever. We will go for counselling. I will be with you every step of the way. I will attend every session with you.
Ashu: There is no guarantee that it would work.
Nidhi: There are no guarantees in life. You know that better than anyone. Does that mean you won't even try? For us? I know you. Not for a moment do I believe that you can harm a child, any child, let alone your own. Its just not in you.
Ashu: What if it doesn't work?
Nidhi: What if it does?
He searches her face as if looking for some kind of reassurance: You'd really take that kind of chance on me?
Nidhi cups his cheeks: Yes. I love you. And I love this tiny being inside me. You will love it too if you would just give yourself the chance. I need you. (She takes his hands and puts them on her tummy only to have him jerk back.) Our child needs you. Whatever it takes, we will work this out together.
He closes his eyes and swallows hard. A shudder racks his big frame. Finally, he opens his eyes. Looking as though he is steeling himself to walk through hell, he nods: Ok. I am not promising anything. But..I will give it a try.
Relief cascades through Nidhi like water spilling over a dam. She cradles his head in her arms and softly kisses his lips before kissing the cheek where she had slapped him, all the while stroking his hair, neck and shoulders: Now, come. Lets go inside.
A little while later Ashu is in the shower. Its probably crazy having a shower at 3 in the morning but the game played at the round the clock sports/fitness centre has me all sweaty and sticky. Every hit of the bat to the ball felt like some kind of death knell bringing me closer and closer to a life without my life. Without my Nidhi. Being a born nurturer, I genuinely thought she would chose having the baby over a life with me. She would resist but in the end she would..But looks like he under estimated her inner strength. She wants both and is hell bent on getting both. (He touches the cheek where she had slapped him.) She slapped him. She actually slapped him at the mere mention of a separation. I guess I more than deserved it for everything that I have been putting her through. The question now is, am I willing to take the chance. The thought of digging everything out and opening the wound that's still raw makes him cringe in fear. But if SHE, who is so much younger than him is refusing to give up, shouldn't I be willing to do the same thing? Especially if it would mean I would get to be with her? Is it really possible..His thoughts get interrupted when a pair of hands wrap themselves around his waist from behind. He pushes off the wet hair falling on his face and turns towards her. The feel of her rapidly getting wet naked body and soft lips gliding over his chest send sparks of desire shooting through him.
Nidhi rubs his cheek softly with her fingers and palm: I am sorry Chweetu. (Ashu shakes his head and holds himself perfectly still as her lips trace every line of his cheek before travelling down and softly biting his adam's apple.)
Ashu: Nidhi..can we really do this now?
Nidhi: Of course we can. We are married. Aren't we?
Her humour in this situation brings an automatic smile on his face: Yes we are..aahh Nidhi..please..don't..Nidhi..wait..listen.. (Finally he grips her hair and pulls her head and lips away from his body) Is it safe for us to..?
Nidhi: Yes. It is. I am just 6 weeks along. So no restrictions as yet. (Inwardly she does a happy jig. No matter what he might think, his words now proved his concern for her and the little life inside her. Sighing in blissful delight, she surrenders body and soul to her husband once again.)
Nidhi: Good Morning Baba. Good Morning Kaka!
BB: Good Morning beta. Ready for college? Aaja bait.
Nidhi: Ji baba.
HK: Bahu, tere liye coffee laau?
Nidhi hesitates for a second: No kaka. No more coffee from today on. Only milk.
BB: Arre tu toh subah coffee peeti hain na. Toh aaj kya hua?
Nidhi bows her head in shyness and hesitation. A slight blush covers her cheeks: Ji. But Dr K said milk is good for expectant mothers.
BB gives her a confused look for a moment before delight takes over his expression. He gets up and pulls Nidhi into a hug: Arre beta ab tak bataya kyon nahi? Hiraman, muh meeta karvaoji. Hamari bahu hum dono ko dada bananewali hain.
HK's face also lights up. He quickly gets a tall glass of milk and some sweets on a plate: Bahu, tabiyat toh teek hain na. Doctor ne kya kaha?
Nidhi: Everything fine kaka. Nothing to worry. I just got it confirmed yesterday.
BB: Nidhi, you have to take real good care of yourself from now on. Ok? No bhaag daud. Agreed that me and Hiraman are old but we are fit too. So if you need anything, tell us. Other than going to the college and your studies, you are not to lift a finger in the home front. Hiraman, hire a maid if you need extra help. Aur bahu ko jo pasand ho woh sab banana. (He looks at Nidhi) Beta..apne baba ko bataya? (Nidhi shakes her head. BB gets the cordless and gives it to her.) Call him Nidhi. He should have been the first to know actually. (She takes the phone and just then Ashu comes down the steps and that widens BB's smile all the more.) Arre Ashu, come here. (And he hugs Ashu) Such a good news and you didn't tell me? Congratulations beta. I can't wait..I just can't wait to play with my grand kid. (In his flow and enthusiasm he completely misses the fact that Ashu is neither smiling nor responding..his face set in stone.)
Nidhi's smile also slips and falls away at that: Mein aap keliye chai banau?
Ashu gives her a bland empty look: No, thanks. I have a surgery posted now. I will catch you all later. Bye baba. Bye Nidhi. (Without giving a chance for either of them to reply, he leaves. BB then registers Ashu's response, or rather the lack of it and Nidhi's downbent head)
BB: Nidhi, look at me. What happened beta? Ashu is not happy with the news? (Nidhi slowly shakes her head as in a no.) He is still thinking of his past na. (BB sighs.) Ateet apne panjon mein usko jagadrakha hain Nidhi. And he is the only one who can free himself. We will help him beta. Tum dil chota na karo. Mein hoon na. I will take care of everything. You just tell me what you need and I will do it.
Nidhi nods: I know baba. I think I know what to do. I googled this morning and found a Psychiatrist in Lucknow who has handled similar cases. Both of us will go and meet him.
BB gives her a surprised look: Ashu agreed to this? (Nidhi nods with a tiny smile on her face. BB puts a hand on her head in a gesture of blessing.) That's a great step Nidhi. Jeeti raho beta. Tum bilkul aise hi rehna. Himmat mat haarna. Ok? (Nidhi nods.) Ab chal..jaldi se phone karke apne baba ko yeh khushkhabri sunaade. (HK sends a silent prayer that her call should go well.)
Nidhi dials the number with trembling fingers and waits for someone to lift the phone. A few moments later, DB lifts the phone: Hellooo..kaun hain?
Nidhi swallows and wipes her eyes hard before answering in a trembling voice: Dadi bua..mein..Nidhi.
DB's entire face lights up as she looks at the phone in her hand and softly kisses it. Tears roll down her cheek unchecked as she grips the phone with both her hands: Ni..dhi..meri bachchi!
Nidhi collapses on to the dining chair as her eyes fill up and throat clogs up: DB..kaise hain DB?
DB hastily wipes her tears with the back of her hand: Achchi hoon..achchi hoon. Tu kaisi hain? Hello? Hello? Nidhi..tu hain na wahaa..
Nidhi gives a hiccupping chuckle: Haan DB..mein yahi hoon. Buss..paani peerahi thi.
DB: Tujhe kitna yaad karti hoon..tujhe pata hain?
Nidhi wipes her eyes with her sleeve: Mein bhi DB. I miss you so much. Aapka gulaab jaamun aur..aur..jab mein bimaar thi tab..aapke haath ka kichidi..DB..you really thought I won't recognize the taste?
DB: Arre jab tu bimaar thi tab kaise meine apne aap ko roka sirf mujhe pata hain. Tum aur tumhaare baba..dono baap beti..ek se badkar ek ziddi ho..beech mein yeh boodi DB!
Seeing the joy in Nidhi's face, BB prompts her to give the news fast and she nods: DB..ek baat kehni thi aapse. (A slight pause) Aap..aap pardaadi bannewaali hain DB.
Stunned silence greets her for a few seconds after which Nidhi's ear almost blasts with DB's scream of joy: KYA? Meri bachchi..meri bachchi maa bannewaali hain? Meri bachchi maa bannewaali hain? Haan?
Nidhi nods repeatedly: Haan DB.
DB laughs and cries at the same time: Bajrangbali ka laakh laakh shukr hain. CS! Abe O manhoos..idhar aa..jaldi..(She takes some money from her purse and gives it to him) Jaa..jaakar gareebon mein baantke aa. Arre jaa na..tumhaari bibiji maa bannewaali hain..jaa! (CS jumps and runs out almost dancing on his way.) Nidhi..kaisi tabiyat hain ab? Dactar ko dikhaya? Kaunsa maheena chalraha hain?
Nidhi: Sab teek hain DB. 7th week abhiabhi shuru hua hain. DB..baba hain kya?
DB gets an angry look on her face: Woh Dilli gaya hain. Kal subah waapas aayega. Aur aate hi kaan pakadke tere paas laaungi. Ab toh bahut hogaya. Tu ab fikr mat kar. Teek hain? Dil mein kuch mat rakh. Aisi haalat mein hamesha khush rehna chahiye. Sunrahi ho na?
Nidhi nods: Ji DB. Mein sach mein aaj bahut khush hoon. (She looks at BB who gives her a thumbs up sign and laughs softly. her eyes fill up again and she hastily wipes them away.) Aap aayengi na DB? I miss you and baba, DB. (She hugs the phone to herself and bursts out crying.)
DB panics: Nidhi? Bachchi! Ro mat. Suna tumne? Ro mat. Ab sab teek hojaayega. Tum dekhna. Nidhi..arre kuch toh bol meri bachchi!
BB takes the phone from Nidhi gently: Hello Sarojji..mein Dr Mathur.
DB: Nidhi teek hain na dactarsaab?
BB smiles: Aapki beti bilkul teek hain. They are tears of relief and joy Sarojji..inhe behne deejiye.
DB: Ji..mein..(Her throat also closes up) Rakhti hoon abhi. Please take care of Nidhi. (BB cuts the call and looks at Nidhi who by now has calmed down a bit.)
Nidhi: Mein bhi taiyar hoke nikalti hoon baba. College keliye derhorahi hain. Kaka, Shaam ko sabzi shopping chalenge.
HK: Nahi. Ab se kuch nahi karogi bahu. Sab mein dekhloonga. Ab jao. Jeeti raho. (Nidhi climbs up the steps only to hear HK shout from below) Aur haan..aaj se lunchbox lejaana bahu. Canteen mein khaana band. (She grins as she hears him grumbling about spicy food and baahar ka khana before taking out her cell phone and sending an sms to Anji. Sms leading a phone call and Nidhi runs to her college with Anji's excited screams resounding in her ears.)
At KGH: evening around 6 pm:
There is a knock on Ashu's cabin door before Nidhi barges in, eyes alight with joy: I spoke to DB!
Nidhi nods vigorously and quickly narrates everything that happened after he left that morning: I came during lunch hour to tell you but you were still in the OT.
The thing that is twisting my insides has become the catalyst in bringing her family back to her. Ashu smiles ruefully: That's really great Nidhi.
Nidhi is fairly bouncing now in her good mood: Lets go and have some tea in the canteen. Its been so long since we did that in KGH.
Both of them make their way to the canteen where Ashu orders elaichi tea and Nidhi orders adrak tea at the same time. Both look at each other and burst out laughing and the tension of the last almost 24 hours finally breaks. Ashu pushes everything to the back of his mind as they chat and catch up with each other's news. Towards the end, just as they are about to leave, Dr Sanjay, the paediatrician joins them at the same time: Hello Dr Nidhi! Or since you are with your husband now, should I call you ma'am? (He laughingly winks at them making Nidhi chuckle.) Oh and I hear congratulations are in order! Jr Dr Ashutosh soon to make the debut huh!!
Ashu's face becomes pale at the way that sentence is phrased. Nidhi looks at him with worried eyes before trying to divert Dr Sanjay's attention: Kyon sir? Jr Dr Nidhi nahi hosakti kya? Oh, that reminds me, we are supposed to leave 10 minutes ago. I'll see you again Dr Sanjay.
Dr Sanjay: Sure sure. And Nidhi, that appendix case looks fine now. Kal discharge sheet taiyaar karlena. (Nidhi nods and literally pulls Ashu along with her to the parking lot)
Nidhi: You ok?
Ashu nods: Yeah. I am fine. Nidhi, why don't you go home. I'll be in a little later?
Nidhi: No. Because we are going somewhere now.
Nidhi: To meet Dr Rishab Banerjee. I have taken the appointment. Normally we have to wait a week but since its Dr Ashutosh who has asked for it..
Ashu frowns: Who is this Dr Rishab Banerjee?
Nidhi: A psychiatrist. He specializes in these cases. (Seeing that Ashu is about to protest,) Please. For me? For us? You promised to try na. And I will be with you. (Sighing his defeat, Ashu gets into the car along with Nidhi)
Ashu: But what about your car?
Nidhi: I came in a cab. Now come on. Here is the address.
Since there is no major traffic, they reach the clinic on time and are shown directly into the doctor's cabin. Nidhi realizes that although he told her that he would give it a chance, he is still skeptical about the whole counselling thing. He approaches it with his usual reserve and she squeezes his hand in silent encouragement. Once both of them are seated and the situation explained to him in brief, Dr Rishab looks at Nidhi: So you are pregnant now ma'am?
Dr Rishab: Then I suggest you wait outside until the session is over. Pregnancy and tension don't go well together.
Dr Rishab: You can wait in the lounge. (Nidhi nods and gets up to go and Ashu also gets up. At the door, she turns towards Ashu before taking his palm in both of hers)
Nidhi: I will waiting outside Ok? (Ashu nods. Uncaring that there is a famous elderly psychiatrist sitting right there, Nidhi raises on her toes and softly kisses his cheek) I love you. (And leaves closing the door softly behind her. Ashu gives the doctor a slightly embarrassed look before taking his seat again)
Dr Rishab: So, Dr Ashutosh, you want to talk?
Dr Rishab nods: Then let me tell you something in the beginning itself. Violent behaviour of parents is very often passed on from one generation to the next. In order to break that destructive cycle, you must first recognize its existence or at least that the potential is there. And second, you must WANT to break the cycle. I can see that you do both. In addition, you have the added motivation of a child on the way and the loving support of your wife. I see no reason why you won't make a fantastic father. Probably better than many others, PRECISELY because you are so concerned.
Though he is still uneasy, Dr Rishab's words give Ashu a ray of hope..a spark of optimism. He clears his throat: He was in the army..always had trouble controlling his temper.
Dr Rishab: And your mother? Was she a working woman? (Ashu shakes his head) It was just the three of you in the house? (He nods) Did you go to school?
5 baje utne ko kahaa tha na..YES or NO? Haath aage badao. Apna. Haath. Aage Badao Ashutosh! Ashu jerks back and gets up: I am sorry. I can't..can't do this. I don't want to do this. I am leaving now.
Dr Rishab: Have you talked about your childhood before at all?
Ashu gives a jerky nod: To Nidhi..my wife.
Dr Rishab nods: But not to a doctor. (It's a statement and Ashu shakes his head in reply.) Ok. I will schedule 3 appointments per week for now. We will see later.
Ashu starts walking backwards: No..I don't want this. I can't talk like this Dr Rishab.
Dr Rishab looks at him with calm understanding eyes: I know Dr Ashutosh. This is your first meeting with me and I don't have a magic wand..although sometimes I do wish I had one. We will meet again the day after tomorrow.
Ashu doesn't bother refuting it. Just turns on his heel and walks out: Nidhi..chalo.
Nidhi runs to keep up with his long strides: Kya hua?
Ashu turns to snap at her but one look at the worry and love in her eyes, he swallows and averts his eyes: I have an appointment the day after tomorrow. (Reassured, Nidhi follows him but takes over the driving. That night, Ashu tries to sleep facing away from her. But Nidhi keeps twisting and turning and grumbling softly until he finally gives in and turns to lie on his back. A huge sigh of relief rolls through him when Nidhi immediately slides towards him and throws her arm and leg over him before settling down with a content happy smile on her face. He pulls her even closer as his eyes drift close.)
Next day morning (Sunday):
Ashu wakes up to the sounds of Nidhi retching in the bathroom and rushes inside to hold her head: Hey, you ok?
Nidhi nods after splashing some cold water on her face and rinsing her mouth with mouthwash: Morning sickness.
Ashu's fingers losen their hold on her and he backs off from the bathroom with an awkward nod leaving behind a teary Nidhi. A moment later, she hears the study door opening and closing.
Ashu leans against the closed door of his study and grits his teeth. He sees the worn teary face of his wife as he backed out of the bathroom just now and he turns his face away as if unable to see it.
You know what you are? You are a coward Dr Ashutosh Mathur. A spineless coward..and selfish to boot who can't think past his own insecurities and fears..who doesn't have the courage to live in the present..who can't even envision a single positive thing about the future..who has spent so much time running away that now he can't stop. You are such a coward that you hurt the best thing that happened in your life rather than face down your fears. Dr Ashutosh Mathur, the dean of KGH, famous neurosurgeon, today actually ran away from his puking wife. No Ashutosh! You can't do this! If SHE is willing to take a chance and stand beside you even after all this, then the least you could do is..His thoughts come to an abrupt halt as a soft voice from downstairs reaches him.
Mujhko apane gale lagaa lo, ai mere
Tumko kyaa batlaau mai Ke tumse kitnaa pyaar hai
Mujhko apne gale lagaa lo, ai mere hamraahi
Tumko kyaa batlaau mai Ke tumse kitanaa pyaar hai
Mujhko apne gale lagaa lo
His slow steps carry him downstairs and towards the kitchen where she is standing near the stove and has begun to make coffee for him.
Jab tum mujhse dur rehte ho Jiyaa meraa
Neend aankho se ud jaati hai Chaand agan barsaataa hai
Dono pehlu jal jaate hai Aag me aag lagaataa hai
Jaise tadpe bin jal machhli Pyaar mujhe tadpaataa hai,
pyaar mujhe tadpaataa hai
Is uljhan se mujhko bachaalo, ai mere hamrahi
Tumko kyaa batlaau mai tumse kitna pyaar hain,
smell of the caffeine makes her face screw up, step back from the stove and
close her eyes. His heart squeezes at that sight but he doesn't stop or turn
away this time. Nidhi's startled eyes turn towards her husband as he picks up
the song that she had been singing and takes it forward. A joyful look takes
over her entire face.
Jab tak tumko main naa dekhu Chain mujhe
kab aata hai
Khoj me teri mann ka panchhi Door kahin kho jaata hai
He puts his arm around her shoulders and gently guides her out of the kitchen and makes her sit in the dining chair.
Jab tum mujko mil jaati ho Dard davaa ban
Varna tum bin sara jivan sunaban sahelata hai
Sunaban sahelata hai
He puts a couple of salt crackers in a small bowl and brings it back to her and sits down on his hunches in front of her and extends the bowl to her. She kisses him on the forehead before picking one cracker and munching it slowly.
Har manjil par mujko sambhalo Ai mere
Tumko kyaa batlaau mai Ke tumse kitnaa pyaar hai
Mujhko apne gale lagaa lo Ai mere hamrahi
Tumko kyaa batlaau mai Ke tumse kitnaa pyaar hai
Mujhko apne gale lagaa lo..
His vision blurs as he tries to apologize to her with his eyes. She takes the bowl from his hand and places it back on the table just as he bows and rests his head in her lap. Suddenly, CV's voice brings them both out of their world: Nidhi..
They spring apart and their startled eyes look at the doorway where CV and DB are standing.
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Ashutosh gets up swiftly and steps back as Nidhi closes her mouth with her palms in stunned surprise before hiccupping a whispery soft "Baba" and stumbles a little while getting up. Ashu instinctively supports her and looks at her with a smile and gestures her to go. Her walk is slow with small measured steps as if she is afraid to make any fast movements and make this whole thing disappear. Finally she is infront of CV and DB and her gaze alternates between them before she smiles, grins and then the tears start rolling down her cheeks. She holds the door for support as the dam bursts open and she sinks to her knees at the entrance of the house. CV immediately sits in front of her and pulls her into his arms and his own emotional state is no better than his daughter's. He runs a trembling hand through her hair as he mouths softly: Nidhi..! Meri achchi waali beti.
Nidhi closes her eyes tightly and hugs her father back: Baba!
DB also sits beside her and pulls her into her arms: Buss..buss..meri bachchi..ro mat. Shaanth hojaa. Aisi haalat mein rona teek nahi hain. Yog! Tum bhi na! (She glares at CV with tear blurry eyes before hastily wiping them away with her pallu.) Nidhi..do you know, your baba came home last night and when I gave him the news, he wanted to come right away. But it was past 10 so we waited till morning. Subah ke 5 baje se taiyaar hoke baita tha ye toh..(Nidhi gives a tremoulous laugh and looks at her baba with all the love in her eyes.)
BB: Aap teeno ko wahi baitkar baaten karni hain? Nahi..mera matlab hain, ghar mein kursiya bhi hain aur sofe bhi.
That breaks the tension and with a husky laugh CV gets up and helps Nidhi also get up. Nidhi holds CV's hand in hers, puts her free arm around DB's shoulders and pulls them inside: Aaiye baba..DB..andar aayiye.
Ashu comes forward with a hesitant smile: Welcome sir. Namaste Sarojji.
CV leaves Nidhi and comes towards Ashu: Galti aapki bhi nahi thi Ashutosh. At least not completely. And even if you WERE wrong, I should have let you go once I started realizing how happy my daughter is with you. But its not always easy to let go of one's ego, is it? I should have known my daughter's choice would be an excellent one and she is not the one to take a step unless she is really sure about it.
Nidhi exchanges a joyful relieved look with DB, who hugs her once again before getting up and joining CV: Damaad babu..(Nidhi exclaims softly before smothering it by covering her mouth with her palm) Beeti baaten sab bhoolke aaj se ek nayo shuruvaad karte hain. Kyon? (Ashu gives a wry smile and nods.)
BB: Fantastic! Isibaatpe toh ek party honi chahiye.
CV: Zaroor samdhiji..(CV goes to BB and both men hug) We want to invite you all for lunch today, at our house. Kya kehte hain Ashutosh?
Ashu: Ji..koi formality nahi hain sir, but we would be glad to come. (His eyes take in the radiant smile of his wife and his own lips stretch into a smile of shared understanding as he is sure that she is barely managing to control herself from jumping up and hugging him.)
That taken care of, DB turns her attention to Nidhi and kisses her cheek: Meri bachchi..kaisi tabiyat hain ab? Doctor checkup sab hogaya?
Nidhi nods: Ji. Sab teek hain. Ulti shuru hogayi DB. (CV exchanges a happy smile with BB before going and sitting beside his daughter.)
DB's face is wreathed in smiles: I will make some nice achaar for you. And you feel like eating anything else, tell me. Ok?
HK walks into the house with a bag full of vegetables with Anji right behind him with another bag: Mathur saab raaste mein Anji bitiyane..(He comes to a sudden halt at the tableau in the hall. He gives a surprised look to BB who nods.) Arre..yeh sab..
Anji screams: NIDHI..! (Both friends shout and hug and do a small twirl with DB giving a look of aghast.) Congratulations Nidhi. I could not come yesterday so came today early. Raaste mein kaka milgaye toh I gave him a lift. (She goes to Ashu and extends her hand) Congratulations Jeej! (He shakes her hand and gives her a one armed hug.)
BB laughs at DB's expression and declares proudly: Aise kya dekhrahe hain samdhanji? Humaare ghar mein ek nahi do do betiyan hain.
Anji nods happily from her place beside Ashu: Jeejaji is the best.
HK brings tea for everyone. Nidhi rolls her eyes at Anji: Tu thakti nahi hain kya yeh jeejaji ka pankha chalaate chaalte?
Anji pokes out her tongue: Jeeju ko koi problem nahi hain toh tereko kya problem hain? Kyon jeejaji?
CV turns towards Nidhi: We used to get all the news from Anji par mujhe patanahi tha ki woh iss ghar mein itni ghulmilgayi hain.
BB smiles: Nidhi ka parivaar, humaara parivaar Vermaji.
After having tea, Nidhi takes CV and DB to show the whole house around. DB breathes a sigh of relief at seeing the tidy homely place which even holds a small puja mandir. CV observes the bright study room which now holds two work tables and separate bookracks and laptops along with an easy chair and a diwaan in one corner. His eyes brim over when he sees his and Nandini's picture in a photoframe on one of the tables. Nandini..humaari beti ma bannewaali hain. (His mind goes back to the day when both of them had laughed and joked about becoming grandparents one day and what the child would call them. He smiles in fond rememberance.) Takla nana kehke pukaarne waala jaldi hi aanewala hain. I wish you were here. Phir tumhe bhi woh sundar naani kehta. Aur aaj meine dekha humaari beti apne jeevan mein kitna khush hain. Sach mein Nandini..Ashutosh takes real good care of her. I felt I was encroaching on a infinitely private moment when I saw them both singing, with Ashutosh literally on his knees in front of her. Tum teek hi kehti thi Nandini..when we tell her to make her own decisions, we should also be willing to trust those decisions.
Nidhi's voice reaches him from behind: Baba?
CV towards his daughter with a smile: I like this room Nidhi.
Nidhi walks into the room and grins: Kehnekeliye toh do tables hain baba..but half the time we sit on that diwaan because he ends having to explain something or the other to me. And these days, he uses his tab more because I keep snatching off his laptop. (She winks a little playfully)
CV nods: He is a nice person Nidhi. I am glad to see you both so happy with each other. (A slight pause) Lekin mein darr gaya tha beta..ki kahi apne pyaar ki aandhi mein behkar meri beti apne zindagi ki sabse badi galati na karbaite.
Nidhi comes and hugs him: Baba..I never misunderstood you. Never. And I was equally confident that you would forgive me one day because you will understand. My baba is the best. (She looks up to him) Haina?
CV nods: Apna dhyaan rakhrahi ho na? Next doctor appointment kab hain?
Nidhi: I am taking care of myself. Next appointment 2 weeks ke baad hain baba. Ultrasound bhi hain.
CV pats her cheek: Jaldi ghar aajaana, teek hain?
Nidhi nods and a little while later, CV and DB leave after DB pulling Nidhi aside to enquire about Ashu's favourite dishes. That afternoon, everyone reach Verma residence around 11.30 and Shyama gives a traditional welcome to Ashu and Nidhi by doing aarti and tilak. And for the first time, they take the blessings from CV, DB and Solanki and Shyama, as a couple. Both CV and DB bless them with huge smiles on their faces and CV hugs Ashu before patting his shoulder in a typical fatherly gesture. Lunch turns into festive affair with Anji and Ranga also in attendance and any awkward moments get quickly smoothened out by Anji, Shyama and DB, who are determined to make the occasion a tension free and happy one. DB coaxes and tempts Ashu with all his favourite dishes tagging a "damaad babu" at the beginning and at the ending of almost every sentence. Its as if she is making up for all the lost time in one day. The first couple of times, Ashu doesn't even respond thinking DB is talking to someone else. Nidhi elbows him and tells him in a sotto voice that HE is the damaad babu hence he better respond. Kahi DB yeh na samjhle ki unke damaad babu ko sunne mein thodi taqleef hoti hain. The get together gets extended till the evening tea time. Ashu, for his part, spends most of the time letting the conversation flow around him and going through Nidhi's childhood albums. One snap of Nidhi, when she was about 3 years old, with mud smeared on her face and two small cute pigtails hanging on either side, makes him laugh out aloud. Making sure that no one is watching, he quickly takes the picture and puts it in his wallet. He looks up to see that Anji has caught him and now is gazing at him with a dreamy expression on her face. He shakes his head gesturing her to keep quiet for which she just blinks and her look turns even more adoring before she glares angrily at Ranganath. Its almost 6 in the evening when everyone makes it back to their respective homes groaning at the heavy lunch and a heavy snack during the tea time.
Ashu peeps into the study room to see Nidhi sitting on the deewan, fiddling with her pen and reading the book on Child health and nutrition. His eyes tenderly taken in her intent expression on her face before sliding down to observe her hand resting protectively against her tummy..as if she is subconsciously making sure the child inside is ok and safe. Wordlessly, he backs off, closes the door before making his way to the balcony and taking his phone out to speed dial his one friend: Hey Armaan!
Armaan: Haan Ashu bol. Kaisa hain? Nidhi kaisi hain?
Ashu: We are fine. Uh..Nidhi ke baba aaye the aaj. We went to their house for lunch and stayed on till evening.
Armaan: Oh wow! That's great. Toh sab kuch teek hohigaya aakhir! Good going boss. Nidhi must be so happy na.
Ashu: Haan..Armaan..Armaan, Nidhi is pregnant.
A few moments of silence and then: REALLY? WOHOO! CONGRATS BUDDY! KEEPT IT UP! Pun intended..hehehe! Hey Maansi..Maansi kahaa ho?
It finally sinks into Armaan then: Ashu..Ashu mere dost..you are NOT your father yaar. Everything from the person you are today to the profession you have chosen to be in states and proves that you are not your father. Vishwaas rakh mere bhai.
Ashu sighs: I don't know anything any more Armaan. There is one Dr Rishab here, who specializes in these cases..
Armaan fairly leaps: And you are consulting him for counselling? Really?
Ashu: Yeah. Nidhi took me there. What do you think Armaan? Would this really help me in any way?
Armaan: Ashu, there is no doubt that you are a great guy and would make a wonderful father. All you need is to believe that fact. And I think it's the best way to go about it. Arre..ruko Maansi..Ashu..Ashu Maansi is pulling the phone away..
Maansi: Bhaiya..Nidhi kaisi hain? Kaunsa mahina? Morning sickness shuru hogaya?
A faint smile graces his lips: A little over 6 weeks Maansi. Yes, morning sickness has started.
Maansi: Dhyaan rakhiye bhaiya. I used to feel giddy during that period. Tell her to take lots of fluids like juice and milk. And make sure she eats. Has she started having cravings?
Maansi: Haan. When I was pregnant with Anju, I used to feel like eating bhindi all the time. Waise toh I can't stand that vegetable otherwise. Armaan..behave yourself.
Armaan: Achcha madam..what about when you were snatching the phone? Haan..Ashu..there is a new range of maternity wear in our fashion house. Take Nidhi there and get her whatever she wants.
For the first time since this whole thing started, Ashu chuckles: Abe moron..she is 6 weeks pregnant..not 6 months. Chal rakhta hoon. And yes, I will take her there some time soon. Bye.
Armaan: Apna khayaal rakhna aur Nidhi ka bhi. Bye.
Ashu stuffs the phone back in his pocket and walks back into the bedroom. He finds Nidhi already there, changed into her usual night shirt and pyjama, lost deep in thought: Kya sochrahi ho?
Nidhi gives him a serious frowning look: Mammals. I am thinking about mammals.
Ashu gives her a confused look, not completely sure he wants to hear the answer, yet unable to resist. By now, he has got used to her random, quirky and ribald thoughts and comments: What about mammals?
Nidhi gestures him with her hand to come closer to her and waits until both of them have settled down on the bed with her head resting on his shoulder and his arm wrapped around her: I find the humans strange. (Another seemingly random statement. He patiently waits for her to continue.) Do you realize that humans are the only ones who mate facing each other? I mean, with the exception of snails, whose genitalia is on their necks..even squirrels do it facing away from each other. Why do you think that is?
By now, the naughty glint in her eyes is too obvious and he smothers her erupting giggles with his own grinning lips. A soft laugh escapes him nevertheless: You couldn't have said it directly instead of this weird discussion about mating squirrels and snails?
Nidhi acts shocked: Yeh aap kaisi baat kar rahe hain? How can a shy girl like me preposition you so directly? Chi..mujhe sharam aati hain ji! (She hides her face in his neck.)
He starts unbuttoning her shirt one button a time: You? Shy? (She nods) Achcha? Dekhoo toh meri patni sharmaate hue dikhti hain..kabhi dekhahi nahi! (He wraps her hair around his wrist and pulls her until she is biting her lip and looking at him once again.) I will tell you why it is that we do facing each other. (He moves over her slowly and arranges her limbs, spreading them to receive him. A gasp escapes her as she feels his hips settle on hers..his thick pressure fitting against her intimately. Bracing most of his weight on his arms, he looks down at her passion drugged eyes) This way..(he gives a slight nudge of his hips) is usually more pleasing. (The gentle movement sends a jolt of pleasure thought her and her senses fill with him as her hips catch in a helpless arch. Her hands glide over the powerful surface of his chest and trail down to his washboard stomach with rippling muscles. He murmurs her name, kissing along her throat while his fingers spread her shirt open. He bends his head a little and caresses her with his mouth and tongue. His teeth graze lightly over her sensitive nerves, all the while, that relentless, rhythmic stimulation below continues, as he rides her and owns her..driving them both to an impossible pitch. He pulls his mouth away with a soft gasp) Front to front..I could kiss you the entire time and the shape of you would cushion me so sweetly..(another nudge of his hips) like this. But if you want something else, I am ok with that too. I am quite enthusiastic about it actually.
In response, she just tightens her arms and legs around him and pulls him back to her. His hands cradle her head as he kisses her again, open mouthed and deep, as if he is trying ti draw the soul from her body. She answers eagerly, holding nothing back and together they surrender to their own private magic with hope riding high in his heart.
About a week later:
Nidhi picks up the lunch box from the dining table: Suniye..please wait karenge. I will also come along with you. (Ashu looks at his watch and nods.) I'll just get my back and be right back, ok? Just 2 minutes. (She runs up to the study room with HK and Ashu's shout of "Careful" and comes back down at the same speed almost tripping on the last step. With a hoarse exclamation, Ashu catches and steadies her before pushing her away roughly: HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND NIDHI? I keep telling you to slow down lekin nahi..madam toh super woman hain. Girvir gayi toh? Haalat yaad bhi hain tumhe apni? (He catches her shoulders and shakes her once) Do you know how dangerous it is? What if I hadn't been able to catch you? Haan?
BB comes out of his room with a frown: Ashu..kyon chillaraha hain? Kya hua?
Nidhi looks at BB with a radiant smile: Kuch nahi baba..I slipped on the last step and he panicked.
BB: Sambhalke chalna beti. Ab tere daud bhaagne ke din gaye. Slow down. Ok? (Nidhi nods and BB turns to Ashu) Aur tu? Kyon itnisi baat par bahu par chillaraha hain? Aise gussa nahi karte apni biwi par. Aur khaas karke aise waqt mein.
Ashu's face, by now, is carved out of stone as his mind replays his own screaming words of anger at his wife. Wordlessly, he leaves the house and Nidhi follows him with a happy wave at BB and HK. The ride to KGH is done is silence with Nidhi on cloud nine because Ashu's concern and care for the child had come out so obviously that morning and Ashu, comparing his anger to that of his father. After getting two reminders from Nidhi about Dr Rishab's appointment, he finally gives in and drives down to the clinic.
Dr Rishab gives him a warm welcoming smile: Hello Dr Ashutosh. How are you? How was your weekend?
Ashu shakes his hand, sits down and comes straight to the point: I don't think there is any point to all of this Dr Rishab.
Dr R: Why do you think that?
Ashu sighs and runs a distracted hand through his hair: I can already see myself turning into my father. Today she was about to fall and I shouted at her for being careless. Not just today..when she told me about being pregnant, I threw things around in the room and accused her of deliberately planning and deceiving me. The violence has already begun.
Dr R smiles: You threw things? (Ashu nods) What things?
Ashu: Some papers that were on the table. I scattered them to the floor with a swipe of my hand.
Dr R removes his eye glasses and starts wiping them: I have a 20 year old daughter Dr Ashutosh. On Saturday, she took our car out and came home after midnight. I grounded her in our house for the rest of the weekend and she is not allowed to touch the car any more. We are normal human beings, not saints. And anger is a part of being a normal human being. You are SUPPOSED to get angry. What did YOU do after you scattered those papers?
Ashu: I went and played squash.
Dr R: And?
Ashu: That usually helps me think..and kind of relax.
Dr R: Did it?
Ashu: Yes. It did.
Dr R: What do you think your father would have done in the same situation?
Ashu closes his eyes: He would have hit my mother. Or..or..(He looks away unable to voice the next statement)
Dr R: But you didn't, did you? I don't think the thought even entered your head to raise a finger at your wife.
Ashu: I hit someone once. When I was in 9th standard. One of my classmates kept on teasing my friend Armaan about his weight. One day I saw Armaan almost in tears and went and punched that guy and threatened him that if he ever came near my friend or even looked in his direction, he would regret it. And recently, there was a guy in KGH, an abusive father..I almost hit him but Nidhi stopped me.
Dr R: Anything else in between? (Ashu shakes his head) Ashutosh, that itself proves that you are not like your father. If you indeed were like him, there is no way that you would NOT have repeated the same thing. And the very fact that you are scared of hurting someone is enough proof that you are not a violent person. (Seeing the thoughtful look on Ashu's face, Dr R continues) Do you think your father thought of all that before hitting you or even AFTER hitting you? Did he ever show any remorse after beating you? (Ashu shakes his head) And yet, here you are expressing regret and pain over something that you did over three decades ago. Kids in that age fight. Its normal. Call it teenage harmones or whatever. You know all that, right? And in the recent events that you just told me about, your anger stemmed out of concern. (His wise kind eyes look at Ashu) Ashutosh, getting angry is not the issue. How or where that anger is directed at is what matters. What you do with that anger is what matters. (Dr R smiles at the bright glitter in Ashu's eyes. Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.)
That night: A little after dinner:
Ashu comes down in search of his wife and finds her in the kitchen busily opening and closing the cupboards: Kya hua? Phirse bhooklagi hain kya?
Nidhi glares at him: Nahi. But I want to have hot chocolate.
Nidhi stomps her foot: Yes. Now. Sochke hi muh mein paani aaraha hain. (She slurps making him grin) I am trying to see if there is any cocoa powder or chocolate in here.
Has she started having cravings? When I was pregnant with Anju, I used to feel like eating bhindi all the time. Waise toh I can't stand that vegetable otherwise. Ashu remembers Maansi's words. He pulls her away from the fridge: Tum ooper chalo mein tumhaara hot chocolate laata hoon.
Nidhi jumps and literally climbs on top of him by wrapping her arms around his neck and legs around his waist: Sachchi? Oh thank you my chweetu? (She gives a smacking kiss on his cheek. A loud clearing of the throat and cough is heard and Nidhi lands on her feet softly before moving away from Ashu to face a grinning BB. It's a toss up as to whose face is redder..Ashu or Nidhi. Ashu adjusts his glasses and opens the fridge as if searching for something. Nidhi pushes her hair away from her face awkwardly) Ji..woh..baba..(Before giving up and making her escape.)
BB laughs and gets his water bottle from the kitchen table: Goodnight Ashu..good luck. Hot chocolate achche se banana.
Ashu slaps his forehead in mortification as soon as BB closes the door of his room for the night. He sighs. Ok. Hot chocolate. How is it made? He snaps his fingers. Google! Quickly, his tab is taken out and the recipe of hot chocolate gets downloaded and read thoroughly. Ok. Two methods. I will go with the simpler version. He grabs his keys and goes to the 11 to 11 super market that's close by and buys the cocoa powder along with a can of whipped cream. Just to be on the safe side, he adds a milk packet to his basket. Once back home, he rereads the instructions carefully and measures everything with surgeon's precision. Soon, the drink is ready and he carefully pours it into the coffee mug and adds the whipped cream over it.
Nidhi's eyes are closed as she sits in the rocking chair and listens to the old melodies from her ipod. They pop open when she feels the ear plugs being gently removed. Her smile turns into a huge joyful grin when it falls on the mug that Ashu is holding: Mera hot chocolate? (He nods and carefully hands over the mug to her making sure she is holding only the handle. She takes a cautious sip and closes her eyes as if experiencing something divinely ethereal.) Hmmm..(Another bigger sip with loud noise follows quickly followed by another. Ashu looks on with barely suppressed laughter both at her expression and also at the whipped cream which has formed a cute white mushtache over her upper lip. The mug is almost empty before she decides to open her eyes.) Hass kyon rahe hain? (Ashu shakes his head before leaning forward and gently licking away the cream from her lips. Her fingers sink into his beautiful vibrant hair, his scalp hot against her palm and turns it into a full open mouthed kiss that has them both gasping for air.) Thank you Chweetu. Its truly yummy.
Ashu runs his fingers over her smooth cheek: You are very welcome. Want some more? (She shakes her head) Then come, lets get some sleep. Long day ahead tomorrow.
Nidhi nods and gets up: Haan. (She hesitates a little) Chweetu..tomorrow is the first scan..around 4.30 pm.
His face pales a little but he nods his head in a composed manner: Ok. But I have surgeries post lunch. Don't know if I can make it on time. Don't wait for me. Ok?
Nidhi catches his wrist and stops him: You are ok, right? (He nods) You didn't tell me how the appointment with Dr R went.
Ashu shrugs: Better than the first one. Lets sleep Nidhi. Raat bahut hogayi. (That night, he backhugs her and with his face hidden in the perfumed fragrance of her hair, slides into sleep.)
Next day: KGH:
Nidhi looks at her wrist watch before her anxious eyes once again turn towards the door. The technician looks up from her chart: Ma'am, do you want to get the scan done now or shall we wait for some more time?
Nidhi: I am sorry. But can we wait for 5 more minutes? Please?
Technician smiles: No problem ma'am. May be sir is still in the OT. Aajayenge.
Nidhi nods and tries to smile. He came out of the OT 20 minutes back. I know. I checked. Will he come or won't he? Whats going to win? His love or his fear? God! Please! Don't let his fear win. Ma..do something ma. Another 10 minutes go by. Finally, Nidhi sighs and accepts defeat. She looks at the technician: May be he got held up somewhere. Lets get the scan done. I can always show him the pictures later.
The technician nods and quickly ashures her to the scan room.
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Dr Kothari looks up from the reports with a small smile: So, Nidhi? Everything fine otherwise? Morning sickness kaisa hain?
Nidhi: Not too much ma'am. A couple of salt crackers and I am fine. (Her resigned disappointed eyes once again look at the door as if unwilling to completely give up hope.)
Dr K makes the notes in her file: Nothing to worry. Good heart beat. Basing on your LMP and the scan, your EDD is March 29th. (She looks up) Where is Dr Ashutosh? OT?
Nidhi: I think so. He said he might not be able to make it.
Dr K nods: Life of a doctor. Ok. Here is the file. Check up every 4 weeks for the first 2 trimisters and once every 2 weeks during the last trimester. When are your finals? Will it clash?
Nidhi: Not unless the tests get postponed ma'am. They are scheduled in the first week of March.
Dr K: Its not going to be easy. But I don't think you need to worry too much. Your husband is an excellent teacher, isn't he? I attended his class once. He literally held the whole room spellbound for those 90 minutes.
Despite the low mood, a fierce sense of pride glows out of Nidhi's face. She quickly thanks Dr K and makes her way home.
Dr Rishab's clinic:
Dr R's eyes follow Ashu's restless slow pacing in the cabin. Its as if he is not able to sit in one place. Restless mind..restless body: So you skipped the appointment. Why?
Ashu swallows: I don't know. I just..didn't want to.
Dr R: You think seeing the evidence of the baby heart beat will trigger your temper?
Ashu: Yes..no..I don't know. I just..I never wanted to be a father. I didn't want a repeat of history.
Dr R: Are you sure your father's behaviour changed only after you were born? That he was not like that before?
Ashu gets a faraway look on his face: Ma once told me he always had issues with his temper.
A few moments of silence before Dr R probes: She never thought to leave him? Take you away with her and start over?
Ashu turns away from the doctor. Sweat beads on his forehead but he forces himself to continue: I asked her that once. I came home from school one day. She came out of..their room..and..and..closed the door behind her before coming to me and hugging me tightly to her thin body. I saw..I saw the..the..bite marks on her neck..her..(His sentence breaks before he shudders, locks his jaw and continues) her blouse was torn near the shoulder..tear tracks on her cheeks..she hastily adjusted her sari and rubbed her face before smiling at me. I asked her, "ma, yahaa se chalte hain na. Kahi aur. Bahut door. Mein promise karta hoon..mein aapko trouble nahi karoonga..help karoonga. Chalte hain na ma." (His breath hiccups in.) She looked at me with resigned eyes and said, "kahaa jaayenge beta? I don't have any family of my own. Aur mein toh sirf 12th pass hoon. Kaun dega mujhe naukri?" Then she hugged me again and said, "Aur phir tumhe padaake ek bahut bada aadmi bananahain na. Everyone should respect you and look up to you. Hain na." Then I asked her, "Tab chalogi aap mere saath? Bahut door?" She cried, laughed and squeezed me so tight before nodding. "Haan beta. I will come with you then. We will go off." "Promise ma." She nodded again before getting up to give me milk and biscuits. (His trembling hands pick up the water bottle and empty it in one go. Dr R waits, giving him time to come out of that.) I told Nidhi..I offered to give her a divorce but..she refused. But that was before her family reconciled with her Ashutosh. She didn't HAVE anywhere to go then. Things have changed now na. (He staggers back as another fear takes hold of him..choking him.)
Nidhi turns in her chair at the work table to the sound of foot steps, sees her husband standing at the threshold, tries to smile at him before continuing with her notes: Aap aagaye? Surgery kaisa tha?
Ashu's pain filled eyes take in the way she is hiding her face and hurt from him. His anger and disgust with himself raises up a few more notches. Spineless coward! That's what you are! Cha!: How was the appointment? Everything ok? (Nidhi nods) BP, weight, sab teek? (Another nod but this time her smile when she turns to face him is more genuine.) Scan report aagaya? (She nods cautiously. He swallows before stiffening his spine) Can I see it? (Her face as bright as the moon on a full moon night, she picks the file from the table and goes to him. He takes it and goes through all the details with a fine tooth comb.) Placenta, umbilical cord, size, sab normal hain. (His facial muscles visibly relax as he meets her eyes for the first time that day.) I am sorry Nidhi.
Nidhi puts both her arms around his waist and rests her head on his chest: Its ok. Don't worry about it.
Ashu smiles sadly as his fingers comb through her hair: No. Its not. (He pulls her away from him a little and cups her face in his palms.) Nidhi..ab tumhaare baba aur DB bhi aagaye haina..do you want to go to your house? (Seeing her about to take a step back, he hastily continues) I mean..thode din keliye..shaayad tumhaare baba ko bhi achcha lage..
Nidhi cuddles up to him once again: I go there almost every day na..college ke baad. Kyon? Apni biwi se abhise thak gaye?
Ashu tightens his arms around her almost squeezing the breath out of her: Nahi Nidhi. Don't think that. Don't ever think that. I just..I thought..Nidhi..this is the time when a woman is pampered by her husband. And here I am, running away at the mere mention of..
Nidhi kisses him over his rapidly thudding heart: I know what you thought. Aur kaun kehta hain ki aap mujhe pamper nahi karte? You hired a driver for me, hardly allow me to lift or carry my own books, get me my hot chocolate every night..itna pyaar karnewaala pati kismatwaalon ko milta hainji. (Ashu huffs out a sarcastic laugh making her growl) Don't! Mere pati ke baare mein ek lafz bhi kahaa toh khabardaar! Mujhse bura koi nahi hoga. (She pushes him towards their room.) Now go and have your shower. Khaana khaate hain. I am hungry.
The next three months pass with Ashu attending more sessions with Dr Rishab. Each time Nidhi wanted to accompany and each time Ashu vetoed it. Its not that he didn't want to share his past with her. But more like he didn't think she could bear to see him literally fall apart while relating all the horror. Baring one's soul is not easy but what once started as a small trickle, is now a full fledged flow, the dam completely broken, where Ashu lets out all that he went through, all that his mom went through in the hands of his father. All his fears, insecurities, loneliness and worthlessness that he felt during that period comes poring out in front of Dr Rishab. The pain at the reliving and the relief of letting it out, both are indescribeable. Each session digs and probes into the wounds of childhood that were never healed as Dr Rishab tries to give the incidences an objective view and logically points out the differences between the father and son. And at the end of every session, he comes back home to literally fall into the arms of his wife. The solace he finds there is something he has never experienced before and no matter how low or down he felt, she always managed to draw out a smile and a laugh from him.
Nidhi's pregnancy also progresses. She enters into her second trimester with her gaining a little bit of weight and starting to show a little. The mood swings and nausea fade but with the long hours in the college and the night shifts and duties in the hospital, body ache becomes a constant companion for her and sometimes even the feet and ankles start swelling. DB goes on an all out pampering mode with CV right behind her. If one day Nidhi doesn't come to their house on her way back home, both of them drop in at Mathur residence. Their stay usually gets prolonged until after dinner. But for her, nothing beats the foot and back massages given by her husband every night. The first time he saw her feet all swollen, he had made her lie back on the bed against the pillows and took her foot in his hand. Startled, she immediately drew back with a slightly horrified expression on her face: Yeh kya kar rahe hain?
Ashu: Your feet are swollen na. I will apply some Vaseline and massage them. Keep them elevated. Subah tak you will feel better.
Nidhi: Its ok. I will do it myself. Aap chodiye na.
Ashu had looked at her with a serious expression on his face: Kyon Nidhi?
Ashu had lifted her foot slightly before taking her toe in his mouth and biting it softly. She fell back on the pillows with a moan: You like it when I do that, don't you?
Nidhi arches her back slightly: Oh I love it! Don't stop. Please Chweetu..do it again na.
Wordlessly, he places both her feet on a pillow and gets the Vaseline and starts applying it to her feet: If I can do that and you can enjoy it, why can't I do this so that you can relax?
And she didn't protest anything that he did after that and on a few occasions actually put both her feet in his lap demanding a massage. Anything she wanted, she got it in minutes. Her wish became her command in the house to the extent that DB rolled her eyes and had said yeh kuch zyaada hi horaha hain. The only thing that brought tears to Nidhi's eyes was he never came anywhere near the baby..never talked about it..and literally left the room the first time she had joyful felt the baby movements and placed his hand on her tummy to show him. But the fact that after the first couple of times, he has started accompanying her to the monthly check ups is a ray of sunshine for her. She had even gone to meet Dr Rishab one on one who had patiently reassured her that it will take time but Ashutosh is sure to come around. He is fighting his fears tooth and nail. The demons were his constant companions for almost 35 years. They are not going to leave him in a day or a week. Gathering courage and patience like a cloak around her, she nods and leaves the clinic to go to her baba's house. DB welcomes her with open arms and right on cue, CS gets her a tall glass of milk to which she makes a face but drinks without complaint before lying down with her head in DB's lap.
DB runs an affectionate hand through her hair: Meri bachchi..kuch khaayegi? Mein banau tereliye kuch?
Nidhi: DB, mujhe na sevpuri chahiye. (DB kisses Nidhi's forehead before getting up and placing a pillow for Nidhi to lie down before shouting for CS and going off into the kitchen. A few minutes later, Anji walks in and both friends start yapping) Aur bata..exam preparation kaisa chalraha hain?
Anji: Going on ok. Saasuma (Nidhi grins and Anji pinches her before continuing) Saasuma is waiting for me to finish my exams so that she can take me shopping. Yaar..she wants me to buy those huge huge jewellery stuff.
Nidhi giggles: I can see you now actually. Huge zari silk sari, ghoonghat, decked up in gold and diamonds..waah Anji!
Anji growls: Chupkaregi ya karvaau? (She sighs) Honestly, God knows what I am going to do. Mujhe toh teri tarah khana pakana bhi teekse nahi aata.
Nidhi pats her friend's shoulder: Don't worry. I have started writing a recipe book for you. Simple instructions and tasty dishes. Shaadi mein gift karoongi.
Anji: Thank you. Aur? (Nidhi frowns) Aur kya milnewaala hain gift mujhe? Don't tell me that's the only wedding gift I am going to get. (She makes a move to throttle Nidhi.)
Nidhi giggles and backs: Arre nahi yaar. Your jeejaji has something planned.
Anji: Kya hain? Bolna yaar kya hain..Nidhi..Nidhi..meri achchiwali Nidhi..bolna kya hain.
Nidhi wriggles her eyebrows: Guess na..
Anji thinks: Something from Armaanji's fashion house? (Nidhi shakes her head) Jewellery? (another no. Anji snaps her fingers) Titan watch set! (another no. Anji sighs in defeat) Batana yaar.
Nidhi: Two nights in Vivanta Taj..honeymoon suite. (Anji's mouth opens and closes like a fish without a sound coming out. Nidhi shakes her.)
Anji: You are kidding! Sachchi? But why? I mean..that..thats too much Nidhi..too expensive. Why did you say ok to that?
Nidhi grimaces a little as her back protests and changes her position: Expense ki baat chodo Anji. He gets angry whenever I get that topic. And its not relevant here. You guys have not planned your honeymoon as yet..and you only keep saying na..that he is your jeejaji and brother rolled into one. Toh phir?
Anji: Nahi..mera woh matlab nahi tha. But..
Nidhi takes Anji's hand in hers: Anji, itna mat soch. Do your exams well, get married and enjoy your stay. Begin your marriage with joyful days and nights and take it from there. And thank God your wedding date is AFTER my delivery, warna mein kuch bhi na karpaati. So there is still lot of time.
Anji hugs Nidhi and pulls back when she feels the baby kick. She places her palm on Nidhi's tummy: I can feel it. Wow! (Her smile slowly fades) Jeeju..how is he taking all this re? Any change? Woh sessions kaise chalrahe hain?
Nidhi smiles a little: He is much better. He comes with me for the monthly check up now and pesters Dr K with all kinds of questions until she loses her patience and politely tells him to leave. I think she has started to dread my check ups.
Anji: But he didn't come to the second scan, did he?
Nidhi shakes her head and sighs: No. But he doesn't allow me to skip the prenatals even for a day. Massages my feet and back every night. You know..the other day he saw that I was having trouble climbing up the stairs everyday and yesterday by the time I returned from the college, he shifted our room to the ground floor along with my books and stuff. If I am too tired to study, he reads out and makes me just listen. (She gets up to stand near the window and stare outside) He wants me to finish the MD and start working soon. He wants me to have my own income..be independent. Anji..he even opened a couple of FDs on my name last week. You know..I think its to do with his ma. The fact that she had no choice BUT to stay with that monster because she had no means to support herself.
Anji comes to stand beside her: So its still all about you. He is still not talking about his child. What will you do if this goes on Nidhi? What if..?
Nidhi shakes her head: I have seen him with Anjali. That girl adores him. He loves kids. Right now the fear still is the foremost in his mind. But soon..soon..his love for his child will break that fear. Tum dekhna Anji. It will happen. (Both friends hug and giggle as DB's screeching at CS reaches their ears.)
Anji covers her mouth as if suddenly remembering: Taj? Seriously? Oh my God..oh my God! I am off to call Ranganath now. He is going to faint. Give my jeeju a smacking kiss on my behalf..that at least I am sure you are going to do. (She winks and runs away before Nidhi can hit her.)
A few more weeks roll by on the same note and soon Nidhi enters into her third trimester. Her once brisk walk slows down and slowly turns into a waddle. She starts getting impatient and irritable as everything including bath and dressing takes double the time. Ashu shifts his wardrobe back upstairs so that his routine also doesn't get delayed. His sessions with Dr Rishab continue although they get tapered down to once a week. But in all this, one thing does not change. Their sleeping arrangement. He still sleeps beside her..with only one change. She turns her back to him and after giving her the back rub and making sure she is asleep, he hugs her from behind and slides off into sleep with his palm between her cheek and pillow and his face hidden in the fragrance of her hair.
Nidhi looks at Ashu from where she is arranging her college bag: Aaj mera check up hain.
Ashu nods: I know. I already marked it in my calendar. I will be there.
Nidhi hesitates before continuing: I am scheduled for scan too. (BB looks up to see his son's reaction..hoping and praying for a positive sign. Every time his son backed away from Nidhi's pregnancy, his insides twisted at the pain he saw in his daughter in law's eyes. Poor girl. Choosing something and living with thoses choices sometimes is so difficult. She is brave and an ever optimist but..how long would this go on? Expectant mothers want to share this joy..especially the first time around..with the father. Bhagwaan! Yeh kya kar raha hain tu! Kya kasoor hain iss bachchi ka?) So you come by 5. I will get it done before that and we can go meet Dr K from there. Chalti hoon baba. (She looks at Ashu once again) Chale? (He nods and both of them leave together. BB sighs and goes inside to get ready for his own work at JS.)
Evening: Around 4.30: KGH Diagonostic centre:
Technician gestures to Nidhi: You ready ma'am?
Nidhi nods and slowly makes her way to the table. Just as she makes a move to support her palms on it to climb up, a hand reaches out to hold hers and help her get on it. A moment later, her stunned eyes meet that of Ashu's. He gives her a small smile and takes in the dawning of bright joy and delight on her face. Her lips tremble a little before stretching into her usual beautiful smile. Wordlessly, she tightens her grip on his palm and gets on the table before sliding back and lying down. The fact that the dean has come causes a flurry of activity around the staff as one runs around to fetch a chair and another offers him a cup of tea. Shaking his head to both, he turns and touches his thumb to her cheek: Ready? (She nods vigorously and the technician, after helping Nidhi adjust her clothing, spreads the gel over the abdomen. Nidhi feels the dampness in his palm but he neither relinquishes his hold on her nor does his eyes move away from the screen. She also turns to look at the screen which initially is just hazy before stabilizing and showing a clear picture of their baby. An involuntary smile graces his lips before a soft laugh escapes.) Sucking the thumb Nidhi. (Nidhi kisses Ashu's hand that's gripping hers without taking her eyes away from the screen and nods with a tearful grin. Both of them try to determine the sex of the baby but the baby refuses to budge from the crouched position even when the technician gently prods and tries to push.) Not moved an inch. Ziddi. Looks like its going to be a surprise. What do you think..boy or girl?
Nidhi's voice refuses to cooperate as her throat completely clogs up. He is here..talking about the child..smiling at the scan image..first time and such a huge milestone that he has crossed. (Nidhi closes her eyes as emotions overwhelm her.) He has come such a long way..faced the fears of a lifetime and is coming out with flying colours. I probably can't even comprehend what kind of nightmarish existence his childhood was full of, but can imagine the amount of courage it must have taken for him to even think of taking this leap of faith. His love has finally won over his fear. God! Thank you. and please guide me. Let me be his strength. Never let me falter or lose my patience. Let my love for him make him stronger. Let it make ME stronger. (Seeing that he is still waiting for her answer, she swallows and speaks): It doesn't matter to me.
The technician grins as she hands over the napkin for Nidhi to clean up: Tall baby hain sir. Shaayad ladka hoga. Apne papa aur dada ki tarah.
Nidhi smiles with a nod a moment before the jerk of Ashu's body registers. The technician had referred to BB when she referred "dada" but for Ashu, it just managed to bring back everything that he ever wanted to forget. But he handles the rest of the evening with remarkable composure and accompanies her to the check up. She gives him worried glances in between but his usual stoic face doesn't reveal even an inch. He even manages to smile back at her and once they reach home, even shares the news with a jubilant BB and HK.
BB hugs and pats Ashu's back a couple of times: I am proud of you beta. Achcha sunn..aaj Sarojji aayi thi yahaa. Nidhi ka 7th month shuru hogaya hain na. Godhbharai ka function karvake she wants to take Nidhi to her maika for the delivery.
Ashu frowns and steps back: Abhi?
BB: Abhi matlab ABHI nahi..koi achcha sa muhurat dekhke..aur phir humaare ghar koi aurat bhi toh nahi hain..Nidhi needs someone with her from now on na.
Ashu looks at Nidhi, who shakes her head: Dekhte hain baba. Baad mein sochte hain. (They quickly freshen up and have their dinner before settling down for the night. Ashu gives her the foot massage and filled with a kind of restlessness, goes into the study to browse some medical journals.)
"Papa..nahi..papa nahi..mat maaro papa..papa dukhta hain papa..I am sorry. Mein phir cricket nahi kheloonga." "Shut up! You know what you are? A dumb useless kid who can't do anything right. I will teach you what happens when you do something like this ever again. This is your bat, right? You hit that ball with this bat right?" (The room transforms into the study room with the papers and books scattered all over the floor.) "You planned this? I trusted you and look where the trust got me!" (Image again overlaps into his house during childhood)Yeh aap kya kar rahe hain..bachcha hain chodiye. Aaahh..Ashu BHAAG beta, BHAAG! Go! Aaah Nahi! Beta..RUN..HIDE..meraaa Beetaaa..(Another voice intrudes) Just like his papa and dada. (And right in front of his eyes he sees himself with a bat hitting someone..his face twisted in anger. He shakes himself and his stunned gaze takes in the blood splattered all around the room including the ceiling..the face of a small terror stricken boy hiding under the table..the face is completely unfamiliar..his startled gaze swings to that of the woman grotesque, motionless in front of him ..NIDHI!)
Ashu is jerked out of the nightmare with his own horror filled voice echoing through the walls..NIDHI! He looks around the neatly tidied study room and the white ceiling above before turning his fearful gaze to his own hands. He rubs them over his track pants as if to make himself believe that there is no bat or blood..BLOOD! NIDHI! He runs down through the steps, fairly leaping through the last four and barges into the downstairs bedroom before coming to a shuddering halt. His sweat drenched face takes in the almost motionless figure of his wife on the bed. With tremours wracking his whole body and dreading each step, he goes closer to her. He gets down on his knees and brings on shivering finger to her nose to check her breathing. Not reassured enough, he places to fingers to her neck to check her pulse. The reassuring beat there almost makes him collapse completely in relief.
Nidhi frowns at the feel of his fingers on her neck and groggily opens her eyes. A moment of confusion ensues in her as she takes in his pale face and tear filled eyes before she jerks awake completely. Her palms cup his face: Chweetu? Kya hua? Kya hua mere Chweetu ko?
Slowly awareness and realisation creeps back into his eyes: Ni..dh..i..(His fingers grip her hair and he smothers her face, neck and shoulders with desperate kisses. There is not an ounce of desire in them. Just a desperate need to reassure himself of her vital presence..right here..right beside him..with him..touching him..looking at him with the same bright love filled eyes. Nidhi keeps quiet and lets him take his fill of her. she runs her palms over his hair, shoulders and back silently soothing him. Soon though, he pulls away) You are ok, right? Tum teek ho? The baby is ok? The baby got scared?
Nidhi shakes her head: Chweetu..no. Why would the baby be scared? (She pulls him back forcefully into her arms) Aap ho na humaare saath. Why would the baby be scared? What happened? Koi bura sapna tha?
Ashu pulls away again: Can you feel the baby? Is it moving? Answer me. Its moving right? Its doing fine, right? (He places his palm over her tummy for a few seconds before giving her a terrified look) Why is it not moving? Is something wrong? Did I do something and you are not telling me?
Nidhi sits up and pulls him up on the bed..by now the worry fully evident in her too: Chweetu..what are you saying? Of course the baby is fine. Uske baba hain na usko protect karnekeliye. You need to wait. Give me your hand. (She takes his wrist and puts his palm once again on her tummy and holds it immobile for a couple of moments. Sure enough, the baby rolls and gives a solid kick to Ashu's palm. Her face lights up despite the worry.) Dekha..its saying hi to you. (Another kick on the same place and in an almost involuntary gesture, he starts rubbing her tummy as if trying to sooth the child.) Ab dekhiye..the baby is saying I love you baba. (She hugs him tightly and feels his arms slowly creep and wrap themselves around her bulging tummy.) Nightmare? (He gives a jerky nod) Want to tell me about it? (He shakes his head) Is it about me and our baby? (Silence. She gives him a slow long passionate kiss until she feels his body relaxing and the tension holding him tight loosens its hold on him) Kuch nahi hoga. As long as you are there with us, nothing will happen to us. YOU won't let anything happen. (She gives him a glass of water to drink, makes him lie back down on the bed. He closes his eyes to the vision of her eyes raining down love at him and she softly keeps running her fingers in his hair until sleep claims him.)
Next day morning (Sunday):
Nidhi wakes up later than usual to the voices of her DB and her baba. She hastily freshens up before going out only to come to a halt at the scene before her. Her home now looked like some kind of marriage venue with all the decorations and floral arrangements. DB is busy talking to the pandit and jotting down points in a book. CV is talking over the phone and instructing them to make sure motichur laddoo are also included. BB is busily talking to CS and HK with CS making his own list and HK nodding to everything that BB is saying and giving his own set of instructions to CS in parallel. Before she could open her mouth to ask what kind of Alice in wonderland has she landed in, Shyama and Anji walk in with huge baskets and bags contains God knows what and DB almost gestures them to go ahead and arrange everything: Yeh..yeh sab kya hain?
DB's face is wreathed in smiles as she stops talking to the pandit and walks up to her: Tu utgayi meri bachchi? Ja..jaake jaldi se dood peeke kuch khaale. Mehendi waale aate honge.
Nidhi rolls her eyes: DB, baat kya hain?
Shyama laughs: Nidhi..aaj tumhaari godbharai hain.
CV nods: Subah subah Ashutosh ka phone aaya. He came to know that your DB wants to do this function so wanted to know the plans. Bua called pandit toh patachala ki aaj bada hi shubh din hain..aur Sunday bhi. Hum toh ghabragaye..sab kuch itni jaldi kaise hoga yeh sochke.
DB looks at Ashu getting down from the steps and her face lights up: Par mera damaad babu hain hi itna achcha. He said not worry and that just tell him what needs to be done and he will make sure it gets done on time. Buss..hogaya faisla. (She kisses Nidhi's cheek) Aur toh aur..godbharai ke turant baad mein apni bachchi ko apne saath lejaaungi. Haan.
Nidhi's shocked eyes meet Ashu's, who looks away from her with a guilty flush staining his cheeks: Mein abhi aati hoon DB. (She turns and waddles back into their room and a few moments later, feels Ashu entering it and closing the door softly behind him.) You don't want me with you any more. (No preamble..straight to the heart of the matter.)
Ashu comes to stand in front of her: Is that what you think?
Nidhi: Whatelse do you want me to think?
Ashu runs a distracted hand through his hair: Nidhi..I just..I want you to be safe Nidhi.
Nidhi folds her hands and turns away from him: Safe from what? From whom? You? My finger gets hurt while cutting vegetables and you don't allow me near the cutter for a whole week. I burn my hand while making pakodas and you didn't eat them that day. I get a fever and you panic as if its some kind of life threatening situation. I stumble and you worry. I skip my vitamins and you tag behind me everyday until I take them. And you want me to be safe from you.
Ashu turns her around to face him and cups her cheeks to look into her tear filled eyes: Nidhi..I know I should probably have discussed this with you but please..try to understand. I can't take a chance where your safety is concerned.
A lone tear escapes and trickles down her cheek only to be stopped by his thumb: And you will get that reassurance with me out of this house? Out of..out of your life?
Ashu closes her mouth with his lips: No..not out of my life. Never that. Its just for a few weeks Nidhi. Please? Meri khaatir?
Both of them hug each other as tightly as possible with her protruding belly. The baby gives a kick at being squashed. And contrary to all the other times that he stepped away, this time, he places his hand on her tummy and rubs it softly as if trying to reassure both the baby and himself. And as if understanding that, the baby turns once and stops the kicking. Nidhi looks up with a tentative smile: Yeh toh abhi se baba ki laadli bangayi. (Ashu also tries to smile and lessen the tense atmosphere.) Toh aaj hi jaana hain mujhe? (He nods if a little reluctantly) Aap mujhe chodne aayenge? (Another nod) Wahaa jaane ke baad..roz milne aayenge?
He kisses her forehead: Yeh bhi koi poochne ki baat hain?
Nidhi: Pakka wada?
Ashu traces her face with his lips before landing on her lips. Both of them try to quench their thirst even before the draught had actually begun: Pakka wada Nidhi. Pakka wada.
DB shouts from outside: Nidhi..dood peele beta!
Nidhi shouts back: Ji aayi..do minute. (And turns back to her husband.) Ek aur waada chahti hoon aapse. (Ashu waits) Delivery ke baad mein seedha hospital se yahi aajaungi. Aap na nahi kahenge..koi bahaana banake phir mujhe apne se alag nahi karenge. (She looks at him with the usual stubborn glint in her eyes as if daring his fear to intrude.)
Ashu takes her hand in his and joins their palms: Wada karta hoon Nidhi.
From that point on, the function takes over everyone. Despite the short notice, the whole thing takes on a grand scale with friends and relatives literally pouring in from every direction to bless and give all kinds of gifts to the would be mother. Even Armaan and Maansi arrive along with Anjali and BB laughingly comments that now the house and the function both seem actually grand. Ashu just tries to keep himself out of the way as much as possible except in trying to make sure that his wife is not over exerting herself and after a couple of hours, goes for his last minute appointment with Dr Rishab, for which Armaan also accompanies, although waits outside in the lounge. Dr Rishab patiently listens to everything that has happened and sets about reassuring him once again: Ashutosh, you are not your father. You may look like him but you are not him. You chose a profession in which compassion is the foundation. You don't even enjoy watching violent movies. It's the first time you went to the scan and saw your baby. Then the comment of the technician, your past..everything kind of got tangled up in your mind and took a new dimension which in turn triggered that nightmare. (A small pause before he continues) Your fears and nightmares..don't let them rule you like this Ashutosh. One nightmare led you to a hasty marriage. I am not saying it was bad or wrong but..and this one you are sending your wife to her maika. Your fears though understandable, are needless. I am completely confident of it. Relax and stop reacting to them. Don't let your father win Ashutosh. You are stronger than him..a better person than him.
Reassured yet restless, he makes his way back home with Armaan determined to cheer him up along the way: Yaar..tu toh ek taraf se lucky hain..tera sasural bhi issi sheher mein hain. Maansi's parents live in Chennai and her mom had taken her off for delivery in her 5th month itself. Can you imagine? Mera toh haal behaal hogaya tha. Baaki ki baat chodo..dhang ka khaana nahi hota tha ghar mein.
Ashu gives his lopsided smile: I remember. HK had come to stay with you for 2 months na..baba and I had to fend for ourselves.
Armaan: But even with HK here with you now, I bet you are going to miss Nidhi's cooking, aren't you?
Ashu nods: Uske exams bhi aarahe hain Armaan. Its not going to be easy. Practicals mein toh pata bhi nahi kaunse external aake kya sawaal karega.
Armaan: Can't you do something about it? Tu toh dean hain na.
Ashu shakes his head: No. She is a sharp girl. She will make a fantastic paed. I don't want anyone later on to say that she used influence to get her way through. And she doesn't like it either. She makes sure Sanjay, her HOD shows her no partiality whatsoever. (A soft laugh escapes making Armaan give a happy smile.) He tagged her as Ziddi ladki of KGH.
Soon after the function, DB and Shyama leave ahead with CV to make sure everything is ready at home and Nidhi, along with Anji gets into Ashu's car. HK looks at the backing out cars: Bahu ke bina ghar soona soona lagega Mathur saab.
BB: Haan Hiraman. But its only for a while and when she comes back, there will be double rounak and double khsuhi. I can't wait I tell you. Mein apni bahu ko dekhne roz jaaonga.
HK folds his hands: Mein bhi chaloonga. (BB nods with a grin.)
Ashu carries in Nidhi's carryon and puts it in her room. Nidhi comes right behind with a sulky face and puts her head on Ashu's shoulder: You will come to see me every day right?
Ashu: Every day..no matter what. Apna khayaal rakhna..ok? (Nidhi nods) Now lets go out before DB barges in..(Sure enough DB barges in after a cursory knock)
DB: All settled meri bachchi? Aur Damaad babu, you don't worry. We will all take good care of your wife.
Ashu: Ji DB. I know that.
Ashu waves and backs out the car before driving out of the gate. Nidhi and Anji remain standing at the door, with Nidhi's face still a little sad and sulky. A moment later, Nidhi's phone beeps with an incoming sms:Rooth jaao agar tum toh kya ho..pal mein aise lage jism se jaan jaise juda ho.
Anji gets a complete besotted expression on her face as she peeps into the sms that Nidhi is reading: Aay haay..mein vaari jaava Nidhi!! (She quickly scowls) Aur ek yeh Ranganath! Mere haathon aaj pitnewaala hain..honestly! (She takes out her phone and moves a little away.)
Nidhi oblivious to her comment, types her reply: Tera mera pyaar amar..phir kyon mujhko lagta hain darr..mere jeevan saathi bata..kyon dil dhadke rehrehkar.
The reply is almost immediate: Tere bina zindagi se koi shikva toh nahi..shikava nahi. Tere bina zindagi bhi lekin zindagi toh nahi..zindagi nahi.
The next one month and three weeks go by with both of them exchanging sms at every opportunity and Ashu coming to his sasural every night on his way home from KGH and Nidhi getting him lunch to KGH almost every day. Most nights he has his dinner with Nidhi and gives her back rubs and stays with her until she finishes her studies and drifts off to sleep. Her exams get wrapped up with Ashu dropping and picking her up during that time and with him cancelling his surgeries on the day of her practicals. He paces the length of his cabin restlessly until she comes back to him with a huge huge grin on her face which earns a big hug from her relieved husband.
Her sleep gets very disturbed in the last couple of weeks with the baby practically sitting on her bladder and as the date approaches, her restlessness also increases. 3 days before the actual due date, Nidhi wakes up in the morning with severe backache. The whole day she feels edgy and tired and by evening she is sure that her labour pains have started. She starts timing her contractions and calls Shyama aunty to help her out. Chaos erupts when everyone realizes its time to take Nidhi to the hospital.
Ashu picks up his phone distractedly, his eyes still glued to the laptop: Hello?
Anji: Jeejaji..Nidhi ke labour pains shuruhogaye hain. We are taking her to KGH now. Aapbhi jaldi aajayiye..hello? Jeej? Aapsunn rahe hain na?
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Anji's voice screams at him again: Jeejaji!
Ashu shakes himself: Haan..haan..sunraha hoon. Don't worry Anji. Go to KGH. Take your car. The back seat is higher and more comfortable. I am..I am on my way.
Anji: Ji..ok. See you.
And cuts the call. Ashu's panic sets it after putting the phone down. He informs BB and HK and all 3 of them make their way to KGH arriving almost at the same time as Nidhi and Co. He wipes the sweat on his forehead with the back of his sleeve and takes hold of Nidhi's hand as they push her stretcher along to the labour room: Don't worry. Ok? Everything will be fine. Take care. I will waiting right here.
Nidhi nods her head and kisses his knuckles before another contractions seizes her and she cries out "MAA!" Dr K walks in and puts a hand on Ashu's shoulder, smiles in a confident reassuring way before following Nidhi into the labour room. The next couple of hours are spent with everyone either pacing or praying alternatively. Dr K comes out in between to reassure that everything is fine and it won't be long now. Ashu becomes quieter and quieter with each passing minute. He stands away from everyone near the window looking out into the night with his fists stuffed into the pockets of his trousers. Anji is the only one who dares to approach him. She goes and puts a hand on his shoulder: Jeej, it won't be long now. Don't worry. Ok?
A shudder runs through his body and he puts his hand around her shoulders to pull her into a one armed hug. Whether he is getting comfort from her or offering her his comfort is tough to say.
Finally at 11.45 pm Dr K comes out of the labour room with a wide smile on her face: Dr Ashutosh, Hearty Congratulations! You are the father of a healthy baby girl. Both mom and daughter are fine. (Pacing and praying stops and a chorus of excited shouts erupt in the corridor. CV and BB hug each other, Shyama is busy wiping tears of happiness and DB literally bounces towards Ashu in her enthusiasm. Anji gives a huge yippie, and a hasty hug to Ashu before running towards Ranga's cabin where he too was pacing and waiting for the news.)
DB smothers Ashu in a hug: Damaad Babu, mein nani bua bangayi. Aap papa bangaye!
Soon BB also comes and hugs Ashu: Beta, bahut bahut mubaarak ho! This is indeed a great day!
CV is the next to give Ashu a complete fatherly hug and pat on his back: Congratulations and all the best Ashutosh! (He grins with a slightly mischievous twinkle in his eyes.) Personal experience says girls wrap their dads around their little fingers. Ranga and Anji rush out of the cabin in the meanwhile: Sir, congratulations! KGH is going to go in a celebration mode with this news. Janki Bai, Shaanti, Naazir…sab log suno! Dr Ashutosh ko beti hui hain. Poora Gyn ward sajaana hain. Ok? Balloons, streamers all the works!
BB intervenes: Aur yeh lo..(He takes out a bunch of notes from his wallet) Sab staff members mein mithai baanto. Jo chaahe. Aur Dr Kothari, thank you so very much. You took great care of my daughter in law.
Dr K grins: Its an honour and pleasure Dr Mathur. After all, I got to delivery the first child of our Dean! Dr Ashutosh, give 10 minutes and then you all can go and meet the mom and the baby. I know I don't have to tell you but Nidhi is really worn out so I suggest you keep the visit short for now. Ok? Congrats once again Dr Ashutosh!
DB: Chalo chalo I have to see the little one right away. I can't wait any more.
Everyone makes their way to Nidhi's private room. But not Ashutosh. He turns towards his cabin, his rapid footsteps not stopping until he is inside. He goes into the attached rest room, closes the door and splashes cold water repeatedly on his face. Emotions from every nook and corner of his mind and heart swamp him from all directions. Joy, relief, love, pride..and..fear. Bone chilling fear. A daughter! A girl! The physical proof of all I felt for my Nidhi. A tiny bundle full of life! A completely defenceless little one utterly dependant on me and would look up to me for protection! Am I even worth such a gift? I should go..just go..turn and run..run away from them..and keep running until I am so far away that they are completely safe from me. (He shakes himself) God! What do I do? Why am I not able to get over my fear? Nidhi has so many hopes pined on me and here I am..running away at every possible opportunity! Dr Rishab himself said I am ok. ready to be a father. ready for the responsibility. He has time and again stressed that I am not my father. then why is this fear not leaving me? How will Nidhi cope if I continue to be like this? He is jolted out of his thoughts by his ringing phone. Automatically he lifts it to his ear: Hello
Armaan: Any news yet? Oye, sunayi nahi deta kya? Kya? Hua kya? Everything ok? Howz Nidhi? Ashu! Answer me damn it!
Ashu clears his throat a couple of times before answering: Yeah. Yeah. She is fine..Armaan..Armaan I..I have a daughter.
Armaan shout of joy almost blasts Ashu's ear drum: WOOOHOO! MAANSI!! Nidhi has a daughter. Ashu is a dad now. Join the club Ashu meri jaan! Apni beti ko dekha? Kaisi hain woh? Head full of hair or total bald like Anjali when she was born?
A sudden unfamiliar painful longing seizes him and he closes his eyes and swallows: Beti..beti hue hain mujhe! I have a daughter..Nidhi's daughter..MY daughter! (His eyes fill up with painful longing) Mujhe dekhna hain. Meri beti ko dekhna hain. (But his feet refuse to move) Armaan..Armaan I am scared yaar.
Armaan becomes quiet for a while: Ashu, buddy, relax. You will be fine. A wonderful father. Trust me. Don't get cold feet now. Nidhi must be in there waiting for you na..
Ashu: Yeah..(He blinks at the moisture in his eyes) Her eyes would be glued to the door. The whole family is in there Armaan. But..her eyes would be glued to the door..Armaan, I have to go to her now. Ok? I will talk to you later.
Armaan gives a relieved laugh: Great! Go now. We will come over the weekend to see her and Nidhi.
Ashu stuffs the phone into his pocket and almost runs to Nidhi's room. The whole family is jammed into the room. Anji and Shyama are sitting on Nidhi's bed with her lying down on it and the rest are all surrounding the cradle admiring the baby. Nidhi's eyes are fixed on the door. As soon as they fall on him her whole face feels as if its been lit from within and her smile! Her smile enfolds him in a blanket of warmth and love. I stop breathing when you smile..I start living when you smile! His feet carry him forward to her bed. She extends her hand and their palms join and grip each other. Shyama hastily averts her eyes at this intensely private moment of the couple. Neither has said a word so far but its as if their eyes are telling a complete story on their own. So many feelings, emotions, chasing one after the other..as if competing to be read.
Anji: Jeej..kitni der lagaadi..
Ashu: Armaan had called
Anji: Oh! He must be dancing na.
Ashu gives a small smile: Yeah. How..how are you Nidhi?
Nidhi tightens the grip on his hand: Tired. But great. Apni beti ko dekhenge nahi? (Both hope and apprehension creep into her voice. Ashu swallows and gives a jerky nod before looking towards the cradle. BB lifts the baby up in his arms and brings him to Ashu. DB is still busy wiping tears of joy.)
BB: Yeh lo. Apni nanhi si Shehzaadi!
Ashu peeps into the bundle and his fingers rub over his palms as if they are itching to grab and hold her. Before anyone could notice his hesitancy, Anji comes forward and takes the baby into her arms: Laayiye uncle..isse toh mujhe deejiye. (She looks at the small round wrinkled face) Hi cutiepie! Ole..ole..ole.. (She stands beside Ashu so that he can get a clear view of his daughter's face without the blanket obscuring. Ashu stares down at his daughter, his heart pounding. She looked so tiny and to his amazement, he realizes that she even looks like him. Her scalp is full of thick soft black hair and has her mom's nose but her mouth, shape of her face and her eyebrows are his. At that moment the baby moves her head a bit and opens her eyes. He knows that newborns can't focus but somehow feels the baby is staring straight at him. As if unable to stop himself, he touches his forefinger to her soft velvety cheek. The tiny starfish hands wave in the air and one of it bumps his finger and latches on to it with a strong grip. A tidal wave of emotions wash over him and suffocate him until he could barely breathe. Its as if those tiny fingers have clutched his heart and squeezed it. A lone tear escapes his eye and rolls down his cheek. Anji, after giving a startled look at her usually stoic jeeja moved to tears, comes even closer to him and tries to lighten the situation: Kitni pyaari hain na Jeej!
Ashu looks at Nidhi..at the soft tender smile curving her lips..at the incredible joy lighting her eyes at the sight of their daughter. Had I really wanted to deny her this happiness?: Yes. She is as sweet as her mother. (A delightful shade of pink stains her cheeks. she just went through 3 hours of labour and she can still blush!)
Anji rolls her eyes: Oh please! Jeej! She is your carbon copy and you know it. I swear I can even see Dr Heartstone look in her. See see..look at her eyes..that look..thats all Dr Ashutosh, Dean of KGH. There is no Nidhi here.
Everyone laugh at the way Anji describes the baby. Even Ashu gets his lop sided smile on his face. CV comes to take his grand daughter into his arms: Girls, if they take after their dads, are considered to be very lucky Anji.
DB: Arre dekhlena meri parpoti sab se sundar ladki banegi haan. Mein toh subah hote hi Bajrangbali ke mandir jaake maatha tekoongi. Ab buss jald se jald yeh badi hojay aur mujhe nani bua kehke bulaaye..
Anji giggles: Aur aap iskeliye bhi rishte dekhna shuru karde..hain na DB?
DB scowls: Chal hatt.
Ashu looks up from the baby to find Nidhi sliding off to sleep. Poor thing. She must be worn out. heHe signals BB and Anji to quiet down and once realizing that Nidhi is asleep, everyone silently pile out of the room leaving Ashu alone with the sleeping wife and daughter. He peeps in at the baby in the cradle and adjusts the blanket before pulling a chair to sit beside Nidhi's bed. Taking her hand in his, he softly kisses her palm and settles back in the chair and slowly slides off into sleep..with her hand firmly in his.
Nidhi realizes what it means when people say"sleeping the sleep of exhausted." She blurrily opens her eyes and blinks a bit for a couple of times before looking around the room. Its now filled with fresh flowers of all kinds. Some in bouquets and some in vases and a few roses even stuck to the tiled walls. Looks like everyone in KGH has got the news. Dawn must be breaking outside giving the room a slight orange yellow tinge. Her gaze then falls on her sleeping husband. He is still sitting on the chair, head titled back, specs in his shirt pocket and eyes closed. But one of his hands is still holding hers. She had been so scared the previous night thinking that he wouldn't come to look at their daughter. That his fears have taken over him again. But she should have known how strong he is! He wouldn't desert her. He promised! Her eyes dull a bit. But he didn't touch our baby. (Then she shakes her head) I am moving too fast. Yesterday with so many people around, he hardly had a chance to see the baby's face. Today..today he will hold her. Then as if sensing her wakefulness, Ashu also blinks his eyes open and looks at her with sleep blurred eyes. He shakes his head a little to wake himself up, stretches in his chair and puts on his eyeglasses.
Nidhi smiles: Hi
Ashu bends and runs his thumb over her cheek: Good morning Dr Nidhi. How are you feeling now?
Nidhi: Aap raat bhar chair mein hi sote rahe? (She tries to move a little and winces.)
Ashu: Hurting? Doctor ko bulau?
Nidhi grins a little: Lagta hain Dr Ashutosh Mathur bhoolgaye hain ki woh khud ek doctor hain.
Ashu's eyes smile down at her: Aur Dr Nidhi Mathur bhool gayi hain ki unka pati neurosurgeon hain OBG nahi.
Nidhi starts laughs and winces some more: Oh don't make me laugh now please. I want to sit up a little. Help me na. (She opens her arms like in a hug me gesture.)
Ashu's whole face softens as he sits beside her on the bed, tenderly pushes back the hair that's fallen over her cheek and forehead before bending and wrapping his arms under her arms. He slowly lifts and slides her up and quickly arranges the pillows behind to support her back: Comfortable?
Nidhi nods. A soft cry alerts from the cradle alerts them and they both simultaneously look towards it: Bring her to me na please. I didn't even see her properly last night. (And watches a shutter fall on her husband's face. Her smile of anticipation slowly fades before disappearing altogether.)
Ashu gets up and starts backing away from the bed and the room and the now crying baby: I..I will go and send someone. Right away. (And leaves.)
Janki bai comes almost immediately to help Nidhi feed the baby. After a couple of miss and slips, the baby gets a hang of what to do and starts taking her first feed. Soon after that DB and CV along with Anji and BB also come. Each of them compete and take turns to hold the baby with Nidhi watching them with tired eyes and lips that try their best to form a semblance of a smile. Dr K walks in for the check up and declares that everything is fine and Nidhi can be discharged the next day evening. As soon as Dr K leaves, Anji looks at Nidhi: Naam kya socha Nidhi?
Nidhi: Pata nahi.
Anji looks into her friend's lost eyes for a few silent moments before saying: Aasha. Aasha naam kaisa rahega?
BB comes and places his hand on Anji's head in a gesture of blessing: Jeetiraho beti. It's indeed a fantastic name. Kyon Nidhi? Yeh bachchi humaari zindagi mein sach mein asha ki kiran bankar aayi haina?
Nidhi nods her head but refuses to meet BB's eyes: Jaisa aap teek samjhe baba.
CV: Ashutosh se bhi poochlete hain.
Anji's gaze slides to Nidhi quickly before she puts a mock scowl on her face to divert everyone's attention: Koi zaroorat nahi hain. Mein iski maasi hoon toh meri choice. Aasha Ashutosh Mathur naam hain iska. Buss ab hochuka decision.
CV gives BB a worried glance: Anji..aisa nahi kehte. Beti hain na unki. He must have thought of some name na.
BB smiles: Nahi Vermaji. They haven't decided on anything. Anji is right. Aasha naam bahut achcha hain aur Ashutosh Anji ko mananahi karega. (He also tries to lighten the situation) Aakhir eklauti saali hain uski.
DB: I wanted to take my bachchi home with me for a couple of months at least. Par damaad babu wants her back now.
CV smiles: Jaayaz bhi hain na bua..he already sent her for 3 months before the delivery. Ab toh unki beti bhi hain. He would want them with him, right? Yaad hain aapko? I brought Nandini back home when Nidhi was barely a week old. My mother in law threw a temper tantrum but I refused to budge.
Everyone laugh at that. BB: Aap fikr matkeejiye samdhanji. Ashu has told one of the staff nurse here, Janki bai to come and stay with us for a few days and help out Nidhi. Nidhi aur Aasha dono ko koi taleef nahi hogi.
Nidhi smiles with dull dead eyes: Haan baba. Mujhe aur Aasha ko koi taleef nahi hogi.
10 days later: KGH: Dr K's cabin:
Dr K looks up at the soft knock and smiles: Hello Dr Ashutosh! Come in come in. Have a seat.
Ashu sits: Sorry if I am here at a wrong time.
Dr K frowns: No. Not at all. I just came back from the OT. Kahiye kya baat hain? How is Nidhi doing?
Ashu sighs and runs a distracted hand through his hair: I don't know. She is always dull..not eating much..doesn't talk to anyone..you know I hired Janki bai to come and stay with us so that Nidhi can have some help but..yesterday, she sent Janki bai off..said she can manage on her own. She hardly comes out of the baby room doctor.
Dr K nods with a slight frown: She might be showing signs of postpartum depression Dr Ashutosh. Better try to bring her out of it soon before medication becomes a necessity. Does she cry often?
Ashu shakes his head: She hardly talks and she is always with the baby. Doesn't sleep properly or eat properly. Sleep was never an issue before..or even the appetite. She was always healthy and happy. But now..(Now YOU happened Ashutosh! You and your seeming indifference is what happened. She is tired. She is tired of fighting and losing the battles. Aakhir kitne din..kitne maheene apne chehre pe muskaan liye ladegi woh? She has finally accepted and given up. 10 days since she looked at your properly. 10 days since she said a word to you. 10 days since she gave you her smile.)
Dr K's words jerk him out of his thoughts: Is she feeding? (He nods) Then better to first concentrate on her diet and sleep timings. Make them consistent. Give her healthy nutritious diet. She has her family in the same city. Ask them to come and visit her regularly and cheer her up. Encourage her social life..make her talk to her friends..a small shopping trip..nothing too tiring but..just a breath of fresh air. You need to break her out of that cycle. (A slight pause before she continues) Take a break from your work if possible Dr Ashutosh. Spend some time with her. No matter what time I come to KGH, you are always here. She must be thinking you are avoiding her and your daughter. Women tend to feel kind of inadequate at times like this. I would prefer avoiding drugs at this point of time. Of course, if situation aggrevates, we will explore that avenue. Bring her in for a check up next week.
Ashu gets up: Ok. Will do that. Thank you. (He goes to his cabin on leaden feet and collapses into his chair covering his face with his palms. An image moves in front of his eyes. The one he saw just that morning. His daughter..Aasha. Baba never lost a chance to parade her in front of him..trying to tempt him into going near her. Today baba was rocking her gently and when he had peeked in tentatively, she was waving her arms up in the air with her fists closed. Thick hair covered her head and a cute rosebud mouth between the slightly round fat cheeks. She even looked tall for a 11 day old baby. He had run a finger softly over her closed fist before backing off and getting out of the house. He sighs and rubs his face roughly before taking his phone out to call his father in law: Hello..uncle?
CV: Haan Ashutosh..Dr Kothari se baat ki aapne? Kya kahaa?
Ashu: She says it could be a post delivery depression in its initial stages uncle. Kabhi kabhi hota hain.
Worry enters CV's voice: Depression? Toh ab?
Ashu: We need to keep her active and try to change her mood, cheer her up and bring her out of it. (An idea strikes him) Uncle, Anji ki shaadi ki shopping shuru hogayi hain na. Agreed that she can't do long hours of that now but may be you all can come and show her what you bought or may be Anji can..
CV immediately catches on: Good idea. Lets do that. We also have been keeping everything away from her..thought nayi maa hain thoda aaraam karni chahiye. But I guess that was not a good idea. I will talk to bua and Shyama bhabhi right away.
Ashu: Ji. Aur mein Anji se baat karta hoon.
CV nods and grins a little: You do that. Waise bhi aajkal woh madam toh sirf aapki sunti hain.
Ashu smiles a little: Ji.
CV: Ashutosh..ghabraane ki koi baat nahi haina?
Ashu: Nahi uncle. Mein hoon na. I will take care of her.
CV: I know. I know. See you then.
That evening: Ashu's residence:
Armaan: Aasha! Oh my sweet cutie pie! Ole ole ole..kitni pyaari hain tu. You know who I am? I am your phupha. And this is your bua. And this younger version of your bua is Anjali. You grow up a bit and she will teach you all kinds of games. Right Anjali? Anjali nods eagerly and touches Aasha's soft hair with her little girl fingers: Kitni pyaari hain papa! Ashu mama se kehdoongi ki woh bhi Delhi shift hojaay. Then I can see her everyday.
Maansi looks at Nidhi: Not a bad idea. What do you say Nidhi?
Nidhi gives a half hearted smile: Ji.
Maansi exchanges another concerned glance with Armaan: Nidhi, you ok? You seem down. Feeding sab teek?
Nidhi takes Aasha from Armaan: Ji. I just had a few issues for the first couple of days but..now its fine. and she sleeps most of the time. Not a fussy kid. Mein abhi aati hoon. I need to change her diaper.
Maansi makes a move to get up: Mein bhi chaloo?
Nidhi: Aap baitke baba se baat keejiye. Mein aati hoon.
Armaan waits until Nidhi goes into the room with Aasha and closes the door before turning to BB: Baba..
Ashu walks in: Arre Armaan..tu kab aaya?
Armaan gets up and hugs his friend: Dopahar ko.
Anjali wraps her arms around Ashu's legs and he ruffles her hair: I wanted to come last week mama but pappa had to go to Hongkong. So I waited.
Ashu lifts her up in his arms with a smile: Good to see you Anju. School se chutti?
Anjali nods happily: Haan. Aur humne Aasha ko bhi dekha. Mama woh toh bahut hi cute hain. Softy softy hair..softer than my doll's.
Ashu's eyes involuntarily go towards the room and its closed door and the light in his eyes dims a little: Aap dadaji ke saath khelo mein abhi aata hoon. Ok?
He goes up and quickly showers and changes his clothes before coming down again: Baba..Nidhi?
BB: I think she is feeding Aasha.
He makes a move to go towards the room but HK beats him to it: Nidhi beti..khaana lag gaya hain. Aajao. (Soon everyone sits at the dinner table and Nidhi is the last to arrive.) Aasha sogayi? (She nods not looking at anyone in particular.) Baito aur teek se petbharke khaalena. (Ashu continues to look at her as if willing her to lift her head and see him..and smile that special smile of hers that's just for him..scold him for eating less and forcefeed him. He takes in the way she is literally pushing the food into her mouth, chewing it a little and swallowing down with water. Armaan and Maansi try their level best to draw her into conversation but only get monosyllabal replies or sometimes a small nod in reply.) Beti, ek aur roti khaalo. (Nidhi starts shaking her head and before BB or HK compel her, they hear Aasha's cry from the room. Wordlessly, Nidhi gets up from the unfinished plate.)
BB: Beta khaana toh teekse khaale. Mera hogaya. Mein dekhta hoon na Aasha ko.
Nidhi's impassive eyes look back at him: Nahi baba. I am fine. Aap baitiye. Waise bhi I am not feeling very hungry.
BB: Arre par..(Too late. She gets up and walks away from the table. A moment later, the door to her room opens and closes. Something breaks in Ashu completely and with a rough gesture, he pushes away his own barely touched plate and leaves the table and the house.)
Ram Mandir (where Ashutosh married Nidhi):
Ashu enters the mandir with bare feet, in the same trousers and t shirt that he wore during the dinner. The doors leading to the idol have already been closed and the place is almost deserted. His measured steps carry him forward until he is standing in front of the One who is instrumental in engineering everything in his life. He doesn't fold his hands in a gesture of prayer. Instead, Ashu stands defiant infront of Him: What do you want? Haan? Kya chahiye aapko? You know something? No matter what tests you put me through, I never lost my faith in you. I prayed. I prayed for almost 35 years..I begged, pleaded and bargained with you to not send anyone into my life. You didn't listen. You sent Nidhi and swamped me with so many feelings that in the end I could not resist her. I snatched her and made her mine but I prayed. Everyday I prayed. I prayed for her safety and begged you not to involve a kid into the equation. You didn't listen to that either. (His breath shudders out and he swipes an angry hand over his cheeks.) Bhejdiya uss nanhisi jaan ko meri zindagi mein. Ab mein kya karu? BOLO! KYA KARU MEIN? Uske paas jaaneke khayaal se ruh kaamp ut tha hain mera. Khud ko maarkar door rehta hoon toh Nidhi..(His eyes literally start spitting fire) Don't you dare to use her to get to me. Ok? Fine. you want me to be a father. I will be a father. But if anything..ANYTHING..EVER happens to my wife OR my kid because of me, I will hold YOU responsible. I will come after YOU with everything in me. Yaad rakhiyega. (He points his finger backwards) Jaaraha hoon mein..meri Nidhi aur apni beti ke paas. (His anger drains away completely leaving behind an ocean of pain. He joins his palms in a gesture of prayer.) Buss..ab meri EK baat maanlo please. I don't want to end up like my father. Kill me before that happens..just KILL ME (He feels a hand on his shoulder and turns to see Armaan looking at him with his own eyes full. In the next moment he falls into the arms of his friend and hugs him tight as if drawing strength from him.) Armaan..I don't want to be like my father Armaan! I don't want..
Armaan pulls him away from him: You are not, Ashu. I swear to you before God you are not. Don't worry. Sab teek hojayega. Chal. Ghar chal..apni Nidhi ke paas. She needs you buddy. (Ashu nods) Talk to her ok? (Another nods. They hug again before turning and making their way home.)
That night: Nidhi's room:
Ashu enters the room only to find it empty except for Aasha. His entire face softens at the sight of his daughter fast asleep in the crib..on her tummy, diaper clad bottom raised up a little in the air, head titled to the side, her soft hair falling over her tiny forehead and her small mouth moving in a sucking gesture over her fist. With a quick look around, he tidies up the room, folds the blankets and adjusts the wrinkled bedspread and refills the now empty water jug. All that taken care of, he comes and sits on the bed beside the crib. The sound of the bathroom door opening makes him turn his head and look at his wife. A dim light flickers in her eyes before she turns and picks up the water jug only to realize that he has already got the water for her. Ashu once again faces his daughter and places his hand over her small back through the bars of the crib: Hello Aasha. You know who I am? I am your baba. Tum sochrahi hogi yeh kaisa baba hain..mere aaye itne din hogaye..ek baar bhi nahi mila..na dekha..na godh mein liya..na kiss kiya. Buss hospital se ghar leaaya aur neeche ke kamre mein rakhdiya aapko aur aapki mamma ko. I told everyone including myself that its more convenient for both of you if she doesn't have to keep climbing up and down. Par sach toh yeh hain ki mein bahut dargaya tha beta. I don't want to hurt you. Ab toh tumhaari mamma bhi..I think she has given up on me Aasha. You know..jab mein school mein tha..I think I was in my 9th grade. I learnt about chromosomes. X chromosome, Y chromosome kaise milke XX ya XY banjaate hain. Our teacher told us that's why children resemble parents and grandparents. I asked her if its just how we look. She said..no. Its not just about physical resemblance. Its how we behave and sometimes even how we think. Phir jab mein apne 12th mein tha toh I went to a library and studied everything that I could read and understand about genes. Phir medical college mein join kiya aur saare research papers pade. I understood that I am a very bad risk as a parent. Tabhi meine sochliya tha. (His daughter moves her head a little and rubs her face on the soft low pillow. He gently pats her and she settles down once again. Nidhi by now is sitting on the other side of the bed carefully folding and refolding Aasha's tiny shirt, her mind and heart intent on what he is saying.) Aasha, my father was not a good man. And I share his genes na so I felt I would also one day become like my father. I promised myself that my line would end with me..that I would never put another kid through something that I went through. Phir aapki maa meri zindagi mein aayi. She became my whole world and surrounded me with so much love that I drowned myself in it. Then one day she told me that you were going to come. (He cups her small head and his fingers rub her soft hair.) Aasha..I am sorry that I contemplated..I am sorry. Apne baba ko maaf karogi? I want to get to know you..be a good father to you..lekin yeh sab kaise karte hain mujhe teekse nahi pata. You think your mom will teach me? Will you ask her? (As if she has really heard and understood what he is saying, Aasha starts to move a little before her face scrunches up and she starts crying. He immediately withdraws his hand and gives his wife a helpless and slightly worried look. Nidhi comes, lifts their daughter into her arms and extends her towards him. He rubs his palms over his track pants before taking her carefully and slowly, tentatively, he shifts her into the crook of his arm and moves side to side in a small rocking motion. Then as if unable to stop himself, he touches his forefinger to her soft velvety cheek. She moves her head towards his chest and starts searching for her feed. A small chuckle escapes him.) You are searching the wrong person buddy. Bhooklagi hain aapko? (She screws up her face, waves her fists in the air and starts crying again.) O..o..o..ro mat ro mat..yeh lo..mamma ke paas jao.
Nidhi takes her back and settles down to feed her. He sits beside and just continues to watch the mother and daughter. Then as if unable to stop himself he reaches out to touch the baby's cheek with his finger. She stops suckling for a second at that interruption then ignores and continues filling her little belly. He smiles at that small gesture: Aasha. Achcha naam haina. Anji has a good choice. (Nidhi nods without looking up.) Does it hurt? I mean..when she..(He gestures towards Aasha)
Nidhi's breath shudders out before she raises her eyes and looks at him: No. It doesn't hurt.
As if unable to hold himself back any more, he leans in and places a soft kiss on her forehead, moves away a little and comes back to kiss her forehead once again..more harder this time. A mewing cry from Aasha forces them apart and both simultaneously look at her. Ashu runs a soft hand over his daughter's thick hair and seeing that her feed is done, gestures Nidhi to pass her onto him. He then carries his daughter around the room softly patting her back and burping her making sure one hand is cupping her neck and the back of her head. After giving a restless movement for a few minutes, she settles onto his shoulder and quietens down. He gives Nidhi a look of utter surprise: She is asleep? Again? So soon?
Nidhi blinks and her tired eyes smile a little: That seems to be her routine. Sleep, diaper change, feed and again back to sleep. Last night she slept through the night though. Didn't wake up until almost 4 this morning. (Ashu continues to walk around the room for a few more minutes with Aasha in his arms, patting her back before reluctantly placing her back in the crib and covering her with the light pink baby blanket. He leaves the room quickly without a word and before Nidhi could think or ponder, he is back again with a plate filled with rotis and sabzi. She looks at him with a small frown) Mera dinner hogaya.
Ashu makes her sit on the bed before taking a piece of roti along with the sabzi and bringing it to her mouth: I know. I saw you eat half roti and two spoonfuls of sabzi along with two glasses of water. You are feeding Aasha. You need to eat. Now..come on..open your mouth. (Nidhi looks at his face intently for a few silent moments before opening her mouth and taking the bite.) I went to the paediatric ward today. The staff sure are missing their Dr Nidhi. Even Sanjay was saying the same thing. There was this case of a 12 year old girl..(And he goes on to narrate the news of KGH and whats happening in which department, her classmates and when the results of her exams are expected, how they want to know when they can come and see Aasha. He engages her in the conversation and soon the plate is empty. Ashu extends the water glass to her, his relief too obvious.) Good girl. Ab aaraam se sojao. (The light in her eyes dims a little but she nods like an obedient child and slides back on the bed. A few moments of silence and then she hears the sound of the door closing. Before her tears could spill out, she feels Ashu sliding into the bed beside her. Startled, she turns towards him. In the process of opening the blanket, he stops and looks at her with pleading eyes.) Ok? (She nods vigorously unable to utter a word with all the emotions choking her. Both of them lie down with her facing away from him and him on his back and staring at the ceiling. After a few minutes of neither of them knowing where to go from here, his voice reaches her tentatively.) Nidhi..can I hold you? (A shudder rolls through her as she nods jerkily. The next moment she feels him all over her back and his arm hugs her from behind and pulls her closer. Both of them close their eyes to savour the feeling of being in each other's arms after all these weeks..like the first breath of spring after a long harsh winter. Her breath hiccups out as she battles with her tears and loses. His arm tightens.) Nidhi..nahi Nidhi. I am sorry. I am so very sorry. Please..mujhe maaf kardo?
Nidhi bites her lip before blurting out in a teary voice: Aapne ek baar bhi mere baare mein nahi socha? Mujhe iss kamre mein chodke..(She starts crying in the earnest now.) Chalegaye aap. Akele rehne..akele sone. Achchisi neend aayihogi na aapko? Koi disturbance nahi..koi raat ko aapko utaakar bakbak karnewaala nahi..koi..
Ashu's palm cups her cheek and wipes away the tears before turning her on her back to face him. She blinks in surprise to find his own eyes moist and glazed: Nidhi..the only real restful sleep I ever had was with you in my arms. Without you, I don't sleep Nidhi. I get nightmares. (They look into each other's eyes and in the next moment start kissing each other with all the pent up love and pain. His lips bruise hers in their intensity until with a soft moan she pulls away only to feel his kisses now travelling all over her face..wherever he could reach. He slowly joins his palm to hers and she entwines their fingers and tightens her grip. The tempest subsides after a few minutes and with a deep relieved sigh and her head once again resting on his shoulder and arms and legs tangled, they drift into dreamless deep sleep.)
Next day morning:
Anji picks up the phone with a wide grin: Hi Jeej..good morning.
Ashu's face, which is once again reflecting the raising sun, smiles: Hi Anji. You busy?
Anji: Arre nahi. I was just having my first coffee. Kahiye.
Ashu: I want you to do me a favour. I want you to take Nidhi out for a while today. Not for long. Just a kind of change..for about an hour or so. Ghar mein baite baite..
Anji: Ji. Uncle ne bataya mujhe. Don't worry. Aap befikr hoke KGH jaayiye mein sambhaal loongi. I need to go for my wedding lehenga fittings today. Will take her along. Teek hain?
Ashu: Thanks Anji. Lekin sambhalke ok? Bye.
Ashu enters his cabin in his usual crubs and plops down in his chair with a tired sigh. He changes his phone from silent to normal mode, thinks for a moment and send an sms to his wife: Tum bin jaau kahaa..ki duniya mein aake kuch na phir chaaha sanam tumko chaahke..
Nidhi, who is with Anji in the car, clicks the phone to read the message. Her whole face takes on a beautiful glow for the first time after her delivery. Before she could type a reply, another messages pops up:Jabtu muskuraati hai bijli bhi sharmaati hai..Palkein jab uthaati hai duniya theher jaati hai..Tere rang ne, tere dhang ne tere sang ne kiya kya..Koi mere dil se poochhe
Her smile widens and she kisses the screen before typing a reply: Am outside with Anji. Her lehenga fittings. I didn't want to come but she dragged me out. Will go back home in an hour. OT hogaya? Go have your lunch.
He replies: Enjoy. Off to have my lunch now. See you later. Buy something for yourself too.
Anji shakes her head: Still the ever same love birds I see!
Nidhi slaps her back: Chal hat. Now lets get this done soon. I have to go back home before Aasha's next feed. (Anji starts the car and they leave.)
About an hour later:
Ashu calls home: Hello Baba?
BB: Haan beta bol.
Ashu: Ji..kuch nahi..buss aise hi phone kiya. Woh..Aasha kaisi hain?
BB grins, his delight too obvious: Aasha teek hain beta. Nidhi fed her before going and she went off to sleep. I think she just got up now.
Ashu hearing the sound of his daughter crying in the background and gets up from his chair: Why is she crying?
BB smothers his shout of laughter and answers in a serious tone: Pata nahi beta. Poochke dekhta hoon ruk.
Ashu: Baba aap bhi kamaal karte hain. How can she tell whats bothering her? Rukiye mein aata hoon. Be careful while lifting her from the crib baba. Woh neck..zara sambhalke..
BB: Oye tu MUJHE sikharaha hain? (Too late..the phone has already been cut. BB's grin widens and he rushes to HK to share the news. Both of them give a highfive and do a small jig in the kitchen before rushing to lift the crying baby.)
A mere ten minutes later, Ashu's car screeches to a halt in front of the house and he rushes in barely taking time to lock it. He hears Aasha's cry from the main door and he runs inside, quickly drapes a towel over his shoulder and extends his arms: Laayiye baba..mujhe deejiye. (BB in his enthusiasm almost dumps Aasha into Ashu's arms and goes off to his room without a backward glance. He shakes his head at HK on his way, silently telling him not to help or interfere. Both exchange a thumbs up and HK starting busily cutting the vegetables. Ashu adjusts his daughter in the crook of his arm and starts rocking gently.) Kya hua..kya hua meri laadli ko? Bhook lagi hain aapko? Aapki ma aati hogi beta..ro mat ro mat. (Aasha moves her head a little and screws up her face some more and cries even louder. Ashu looks around not knowing what to do. His glance falls on the diapers.) Aasha..aapko nappy change karni hain? Is that why you are crying? Lets see ok? (He carefully places her on the changing table and gets the diaper. After hastily reading the instructions, he sets to work.) I have never done this before Aasha..so you need to be patient ok? No rolling and all. (He removes the soiled diaper.) Oh..oh..ok. Lets clean you up. (He pulls out a huge wad of wet tissues and cleans her up.) Hogaya..hogaya..buss hogaya. Dekha! You are clean now. Feel better sweetheart? (Funnily, she stops crying and blinks her eyes at him as if saying yes. His slow small smile turns into a wide grin. As if unable to stop himself, he kisses her cheek tenderly and lifts her up into his arms.) Oye mera bachcha! Good girl my Aasha, right? (But apparently, Aasha is not done yet and as soon as he adjusts her head on his shoulder, she gets to work. He gives a small yelp at the feeling of wetness seeping into his shirt and undershirt.) Whoa..whoa..
Nidhi walks into the room at the exact moment and sees the picture of her husband who is looking helplessly cute standing there with his daughter in his arms and the towel and his shirt wet and with a "what do I do now" look on his face. Delight spills into her stunned eyes and reaches her lips. The next moment her grin turns into suppressed chuckles which quickly turn into a hearty laughter with her head thrown back and arms clutching her tummy. His eyes, ears and heart rejoice at that sound. His world is complete once again.
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The reason why daughters love their Dad the most is that there is at least one man in the world who will never hurt her
Nidhi walks towards her husband with a few more chuckles escaping her closed lips and extends her arms: Layiye..isse mujhe deejiye aur change karleejiye.
Ashu passes on Aasha to her and steps back giving her his usual lop sided smile: I..uh..I cleaned her up..(Aasha scrunches up her face and starts crying again making him pale a little.) Why is she crying again? Was I too rough?
Nidhi gives a reassuring smile: More like she doesn't want to leave you probably. Go and change. I will..
Anji walks in: Woohoo Jeejaji! Yeh kya kardiya Aasha ne? (She giggles and Ashu grins a little and ruffles her hair on his way out. She shouts after him.) Jeej..I need to distribute the wedding cards to my friends. So wear something nice. You are coming with me.
Ashu turns: Mein? Mein aake kya karoonga Anji?
Anji puts her fists on her waist: Kya karoonga matlab? Aap mere jeeja hain..farz hain aapka. Chaliye jaldi chaliye. We have to invite about 30 of my friends. We will leave my car here and go in yours. Yours is more stylish. All the ADs in my college would faint..aayhaaye!
Nidhi looks up from where she is putting on Aasha's diaper: Ab yeh ADs kaun hain Anji?
Anji: Ashutosh Deewanis! (His cheeks turn red but Nidhi comes forward with a glare and hits Anji hard on her back making her scream.) OUCH! Jeejaji!
Ashu shakes his head and his chuckle reaches them as he climbs up the steps. He leaves with Anji and its almost dinner time by the time he reach home. He tells BB and HK to go ahead and have their dinner and once again takes the dinner plate to Nidhi's room to feed her. After a couple of mouthfuls, she looks at him: Aap kyon nahi khaarahe?
Ashu brings another piece of roti to her mouth: Mein baad mein khaalonga. Pehle tum khaalo.
Nidhi scowls a little: I know what you will do. You will eat two spoons and leave the rest. (She takes the plate from him) Jaayiye. Aapka plate bhi leke aayiye. Kya dekhrahe hain? Jaayiye na. (She fairly pushes him from the bed only to have him lean in and kiss her ruthlessly until her lips tingle and both of them are breathless. He gets a plate for himself and both of them feed each other soon after which, he starts stuffing all the baby's and Nidhi's luggage into her bag.) What are you doing?
Ashu doesn't stop or look up: Taking you back to our room. I will put these things first and later shift the crib.
Her entire face glows in relief. She wraps her arms around his waist and hugs him from behind: Thank you Chweetu.
Ashu swirls around to face her: No Nidhi. Thank YOU..for coming into my life..for not leaving me..for loving me. Chalo..chalte hain. Woh kamra tumhaare bina kaatne ko daudta hain.
Hope gives an extra spark to her eyes although her voice is still a little tentative: Aur ab toh Aasha bhi haina?
Ashu nods and cups her cheek: You take her and go up. I will get the rest of the stuff. She will sleep with us for now. We will think about her room later.
Since there is barely a week for Anji's wedding, things start moving fast and all the arrangements are full on. Nidhi's results come out in that period with her clearing the theory as well as practicals with flying colours. The boundless joy and pride that shines out of Ashu's usual stoic face and the way he hugs and twirls Nidhi around in front of CV and BB, makes the event all the more festive. They quickly decide that she would apply in CCH and Apollo after a few months. That taken care of, Nidhi gets herself ready to take active part in her best friend's wedding. But with her being a new mom, she is strictly prohibited from any and all kinds of strenuous work. CV picks her and Aasha up everyday and brings her to Anji's house where Nidhi takes care of everything related to Anji..her dresses, packing and the rest of the logistics as to what should go where with the caterers and decorators. The moment she enters Anji's house, DB fairly snatches Aasha from Nidhi and spends all the time taking care of her and once even takes her to the Hanuman mandir over riding CV's protest: Chupkar Yog. I know how to take care of her. Aur phir Shyama hain na mere saath! If I had my way, Aasha's naamkaran would have been done in a grand style but damaad babu wanted to wait until the third month so I am keeping quiet. I am going to take her to the temple and that's it. (She nuzzles Aasha's cheek softly) Chal meri bachchi..hum mandir chalenge..haan?
Nidhi's mouth hangs open: You agreed to postpone the pooja because of what your damaad babu said?
DB nods and smiles fondly: He wanted you to completely recover before handling such a huge function. Mere damaad babu hain aisa..he always thinks about everything and takes smart decisions.
Nidhi glares: And I don't?
DB also glares: YOU? If you had your way..
Shyama intervenes: Buaji..chale? Phir waapas aake cards baantne bhi toh jaana haina?
DB: Haan..haan..chalo chalo.
Shyama takes Aasha in her arms and they leave for the mandir. Ashutosh, although initially hesitant, soon gets pulled into the wedding arrangements. He limits himself to offering sound advice regarding the logistics and ends up spending more and more time with Aasha, getting more efficient in diaper changing and burping. CV and DB share indulgent looks whenever they see Aasha in the arms of her father and CV sheds his final reserve as he proudly introduces his son in law and grand daughter to all his friends and relatives. A few of them do make pithy comments but in the face of Nidhi's smile and CV's whole hearted acceptance of both daughter and son in law, there is nothing much anyone could say. The wedding goes on without a single hitch and with Ashu and Nidhi doing the gatbandhan for Anji and Ranganath and BB taking care of Aasha to make sure the couple take part in all events actively. Anji gives a tight hug to Nidhi and her jeejaji and after a slight hesitancy, Ranganath also hugs Ashu in a silent gesture of thank you. Having sent Aasha ahead with BB and HK, Ashu and Nidhi drop the newly wedded couple at Taj before making their way home to fall into each other's arms and sleep until Aasha wakes them up for her early morning feed.
Days turn into weeks and with each day that passes Ashu falls deeper and deeper in love with his daughter. Now when people mention that she looks like him or takes after him, his face glows with unmistakeable pride and joy. Although he still makes sure he is never completely alone with her, he looks forward to every minute that he could spend with her..be it giving her a bath or burping her or buying diapers and dresses for her with Anji's and once even Ranga's help. Ashu's sessions with Dr Rishab are now tapered down to once in 10 days and they consisted more of his progress with his daughter than of his painful past. The raw wound, now exposed to the air filled with hope and sunlight that brims with love, is raw no more and is well into the path of healing. The passing weeks bring about a lot of change in Aasha too. Now she follows people with her eyes and loves looking at the mobile hanging over the crib. She responds to voices and her feet start kicking whenever she hears her baba's deep voice which it never fails to make him smile, grin and laugh no matter how tired he is at the end of the day. Dr Sanjay even comments that she is well ahead in the milestones for her age. She is generally not fussy or cranky unless she has a tummy ache or fever. Like a couple of days back when she had her DPT vaccine. That night she had temperature and cried all through. Initially he had let Nidhi and BB handle her. But as one hour slipped into another, he couldn't stop himself. Why is she crying so much? Her leg seems a bit swollen too. What kind of doctors is KGH harbouring? Dr Sanjay is supposed to be very good with children. But apparently he doesn't know how to give a simple injection to a baby. He had got up from the bed, went outside into the lawn where BB was trying to console Aasha: Baba, give her to me and you go and get some sleep. BB, who never misses a chance to throw the father and daughter together, immediately hands over Aasha to him and walks off after exchanging a happy grin with Nidhi. Ashu spent the rest of the night carrying her around until finally her temperature cooled down and she drifted off to sleep in his arms. Nidhi's smile contained so much joy that night. The bonding between father and daughter had started to get stronger from that day on. Nidhi meets Dr K for her 6 week post delivery check up and the doctor after giving her Nidhi her all ok, teases her to share the secret of her special glow with her..that she plans to recommend the same thing to all the new mothers.
That night: In the study room:
Nidhi comes behind and closes Ashu's eyes: Guess who?
Ashu: How would I know? Some stranger probably.
Nidhi pouts: I have become a stranger to you?
Ashu pulls her hands away from her eyes and she comes in front of him and sits in his lap: Haven't you? You are always busy with Aasha. My daughter has tied you to herself. She is not even sharing.
Nidhi pulls his cheeks before kissing one: That's because she takes after her baba.
Ashu's face glows with spontaneous parental pride: So, what does Aasha's mom want now?
Nidhi settles herself comfortably in his lap and his arms automatically come around her to pull her even closer: Not Aasha's mom..Chweetu's wife wants to say something.
Ashu bows his head a little: Hukum keejiye Doctorni Sahiba. Banda aapke khidmat mein haazir hain.
Nidhi chuckles: I went for my 6 week check up today and Dr K gave me an all ok.
Ashu: Oh that's good. (Nidhi waits for a while to see if he is going to add anything else but he just gives her a cute smile. She giggles and leans forward to hum in his ear) Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayaal aata hain..(Her lips glide over his neck) ki yeh badan yeh nigahen teri amaanat hain..
Ashu digs his fingers into her hair and pulls her back to look into her eyes..his own dark with passion and desire: Really? (She nods and bites his lower lip softly making him groan and bring her in for a deeper kiss before stopping abruptly.) I don't have anything to use.
Nidhi bites his earlobe making him shudder: IUD.
Ashu's arms once tighten until she can barely breathe: Missed you Nidhi..missed you so much!
Nidhi smoothes the fabric of his shirt before unbuttoning it one button at a time and easing her palm inside over the hard delineation of his chest muscles and touching his now hot skin. He becomes completely motionless, his breath changing to a slower, deeper rhythm as he lets her explore him to her heart's content. After all these months tumoil and staying away from each other, both of them are starving but determined to savour every touch and taste. He lowers his head very slowly and touches his mouth to the side of her neck, brushing the sensitive skin before opening to get a taste. With a shaky sigh she locks her arms around him as he continues to explore her neck with exquisite leisure. He pulls back enough to ask in a hoarse voice: Aasha?
Nidhi starts peppering kisses all over his face: Fed and asleep.
Ashu's hands go under her night shirt: Door..
Nidhi arches her neck inviting his hands and lips: Locked. (In one swift move, he gets up from the chair and pulls her over and down onto the diwan before starting to unbutton her shirt. Her fingers stop him.) I..I have changed.
Ashu gently removes his fingers from her grasp and finishes the task. His fingers drift to her throat caressing the vulnerable curve and then travel to the wing of her collarbone before gently cupping the new fullness of her breast: I changed you Nidhi. You carried my baby within you for 9 months. I never realized the anormity of it all until after I held our daughter in my hands. (Reassured more by the way his eyes devour her rather than the words, she arches her back and tries to bring his head closer to her.) But the way you feel..(He bends his head to taste her) and the way you taste..that has not changed. Mine! All mine! Forever mine! Hold me Nidhi..hold me..don't let go. Not now..not ever. (Their fingers fumble and tremble as they undress each other and their lips get in the way as they try refresh their memories. Each kiss turns more desperate than the previous one. The feel of him over her after all this time makes them both shudder deeply and just hug each other for a few moments in pure glorious joy.)
Nidhi's eyes fill up: I love you Chweetu.
Passion once again takes over them and minutes tick by as they devour each other. Finally his face taunt and intent, he slides into her and stops. She senses the effort its taking him to hold still so that she can once again become accustomed to him. Wordlessly, she tightens her arms and legs around him as she experiences a curious feeling of protectiveness and tenderness. Her hands slide over his back, following the deep arch of his spine. She hugs him to herself and listens to the way his breath hitches and his movements start picking up speed. She quickly catches on to his rhythm. Desire filled eyes in a passion flushed face blaze at her: You ok? (She barely manages to nod before arching up and dissolving around him. Her small scream gets swallowed by his rough groan of release as together they shatter in each other's arms. Much, much later, he raises up on his elbow to look at the sleeping form of his wife..the contentment on her face and the lingering smile on her lips. He softly traces her body with his fingers as his heart hums the song..
Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayaal aata hain
Ki jaise tujhko banaya gaya hain mere liye..
Tu abse pehle sitaaron mein buss rahi thi kahi.
Tujhe zameen pe bulaaya gaya hain mere liye..
A couple of days later: Evening:
Nidhi picks up her phone: Hello?
Dr Sanjay: Nidhi..Sanjay here.
Nidhi moves away from the kitchen: Hello sir! How are you?
Sanjay: Fine. Fine. How is your kid doing?
Nidhi: She is fine sir. Suna hain aap kisi vacation par jaanewaale hain?
Sanjay: Yes. I am already there actually. That's the reason I am calling you. I need a favour Nidhi.
Nidhi: Kaisi baat karrahe hain sir. Aap buss boliye kya karna hain.
Sanjay: You remember Ninaad? The 3 year old boy?
Nidhi frowns trying to recollect: That asthema case?
Sanjay: Yes yes..the same one. He is almost four now. And with this sudden change in weather, he has had a severe attack. The parents are bringing him in to KGH as we speak. He needs to be stablized and nebulisation is a must.
Nidhi nods: I remember sir. The previous time was horrible.
Sanjay: True. That's why I am contacting you. You already know the case history..have handled the child previously and know what to do. I don't want to hand him over to someone new now and take a chance. As a special favour, can you go to KGH and handle this one for me? I will tell the staff to expect you and Ranganath will handle any formalities that are required. You are a full fledged paediatrician now anyway so it shouldn't be a problem. (A slight pause) You would need to stay overnight probably.
Nidhi thinks for all of a second before replying: Sure sir. Not a problem. I will leave right away and if required will call you.
Sanjay: Thanks Nidhi..oh..you are not even my student any more. I should probably say..thank you ma'am.
Nidhi chuckles: Sir..aap bhi na..rakhti hoon.
Sanjay: Thanks again..bye.
Nidhi cuts the call and quickly explains to BB who pats her head affectionately: Don't worry about Aasha. This is more important beta. Tum jao. Hamaara Ashu hain na. He will take care of his daughter (He winks playfully and after a slight hesitation, Nidhi quickly sends an sms to Ashu and leaves. All through her journey to KGH, her fingers grip her mangalsutra. He loves Aasha with every fibre of his being but has never voluntarily taken care of her alone by himself. Always made sure someone was with him. What would he do today? Her mom's voice echoes in her heart.. Success is not final, failure is not fatal..it is the courage to continue that counts.)
Ashu finishes his dinner before tentatively asking: Baba, you will keep an eye on Aasha, right?
BB shrugs: Her crib is in your room. How will I keep an eye on her? But if you have any problem, wake me up.
Ashu immediately springs to Aasha's defence: No no. She is not a problematic kid. She usually sleeps through the night. But it's the first time her mom is not putting her bed so..
BB pats his son's cheek: Mom is not but her baba is, right? Goodnight beta. I am tired.
HK takes the cue from BB and fakes a yawn: Mein bhi bahut thak gaya hoon Ashu beta, I am off to bed too. Goodnight.
Ashu gives them both a helpless look: Ok. Goodnight. (Then he slowly makes his way up to their bedroom and peeps at the sleeping form of his daughter in the crib. He wets his lips in an uncharacteristic display of nervousness.) Looks like its just you and me now. Don't worry. Sleep tight. Aaapke baba aapke saath rahenge. I..I can take care of you..I think! (Saying that, he pulls the crib closer to his side of the bed, puts one hand through the crib bars onto the baby's back and looking at her tiny face with chubby cheeks, slowly relaxes and slides off into deep dreamless sleep. He is startled awake by the sound of Aasha's crying. He quickly glances at the clock. 4.00 am. Ok. He quickly changes the diaper first. Then milk time. Now what? He lifts her into his arms and Aasha kicks her legs in delight at being in her baba's arms. She tries balancing her neck for a while, nodding this way and that, stuffs her whole fist into her mouth and crunches up her face in the beginning of a cry: Whoa whoa..don't cry. Lets go into the kitchen and get your bottle. Ok? But how do I hold you AND prepare your feed? Hmmm..ok ok..shshhh..come on. I will take you along with this sheet. (He puts the sheet on his one shoulder, adjusts her on the other one and goes down into the kitchen. After spreading the sheet haphazardly on the kitchen floor, he lies her down on it and rushes to find the bottle and the formula. Luckily, everything is on the counter including the boiled and cooled water. Aasha, already impatient, kicks her legs, waves her hands and starts crying loudly.) There there there..I am getting your milk. Don't cry sweetheart. You know I can't stand it when you cry like that. See, I am preparing it really fast. See see. Here is the water, I have put the formula like this.. (Suddenly it dawns on him that she has stopped crying ever since he started talking to her and her head is titled to the side as if listening to him intently.) You like to hear me talk, huh! Just like your mom! She yaps and wants me to yap along with her. Now you too? You know I don't talk much, don't you? (As if she suspects him to stop talking, she kicks her feet and her face screws up in the beginning of another cry session. He hastily continues.) No..no..no..Ok..ok..fine. uh..how about I sing a song? You like that? (Some more kicking of the legs and she starts to suck on her fist making him grin.) Which one do you want to hear? How about..how about your mom's most favourite song? You want to hear that? Ok. here it goes:
Aa Chal Ke Tujhe, Maein Leke Chalun
Ik Aise Gagan Ke Taley
Jahaan Gham Bhi Na Ho, Aansu Bhi Na Ho
Bas Pyaar Hi Pyaar Paley
Ik Aise Gagan Ke Taley
Suraj Ki Pehli Kiran Se, Aasha Ka Savera Jaage
Chanda Ki Kiran Se Dhul Kar, Ghanghor Andhera Bhaage
Kabhi Dhoop Khile Kabhi Chhaanv Mile
Lambi Si Dagar Na Khale
Jahaan Gham Bhi Na Ho, Aansu Bhi Na Ho'
Jahaan Door Nazar Dauharaein, Aazad Gagan Leharaey
Jahaan Rang Birange Panchhi, Aasha Ka Sandesa Laaein
Sapnon Me Pali Hansti Ho Kali
Jahaan Shaam Suhaani Dhale
Jahaan Gham Bhi Na Ho, Aansu Bhi Na Ho'
Aa Chal Ke Tujhe Maein Leke Chalun'
He continues his song while picking her up and goes back to their room, sits on the rocking chair and starts feeding her. She grips his finger with one hand and takes to the bottle without protest, as if completely mesmerized by her father's voice.
And around 6.30 am, Nidhi tiptoes into the room and stops as if spellbound by the sight in front of her. A warm rush of emotions flood her heart from all directions. She leans against the door frame and gazes at her husband and daughter with melting tenderness. In the rocking chair, Ashu is fast asleep and sprawled on his tummy, her tiny tiny fingers clutching his t shirt, her cheek nestled over his heart, Aasha sleeping contentedly. She stares at the sight before her, taking it in to her heart's content before moving on wobbly legs to the chair. His face holds a deep sense of peace. Smiling tenderly, she smooths his hair near his forehead, bends and kisses his cheek. He blinks opens his eyes: Hey! (Then his glances down at the sleeping baby and lowers his voice to a whisper.) Hi! When did you come?
Nidhi: Just now.
Ashu: How is the child now?
Nidhi nods: Better. He can be discharged this evening.
Ashu looks once again at Aasha: I fed her and was singing to her. Looks like both of went to sleep.
Nidhi cups his cheek and turns him towards her: You wanted proof that you are not your father. I think you just got it Chweetu.
Ashu looks startled: What?
Nidhi: You single handedly took care of her all through night. Fed her, changed her when she was crying. Did you get angry at her at any point of time last night?
Ashu: NO. (Aasha stirs at his loud tone and he immediately pats her little bottom) No.
Nidhi: Chweetu, nothing tests one's temper more than a crying baby. But all you feel for her is love and tenderness.
Ashu looks at her with hope and belief slowly dawning in his eyes: I am..I am not my father. I really am not my father, Nidhi. (He puts his other hand on Aasha's head and bends to kiss her hair. Nidhi nods with tear filled eyes.)
BB's voice calls her from downstairs: Nidhi beta, tu aagayi kya?
Nidhi raises her voice a little: Ji baba. Aati hoon.
She gets up to go but Ashu holds her hand in a tight grip. The eyes that look at her are free of all the shadows with joy and hope shining brightly in them. He places a hard kiss on her palm: Freshen up and get some sleep Nidhi. I will take care of Aasha today. Aur shaam ko baahar chalte hain. (Nidhi nods with a tremulous smile and leaves.)
Dr Rishab looks up in surprise and delight: Ashutosh! Come come. Hello ma'am. How are you?
Nidhi smiles: Hello sir.
Ashu adjusts Aasha on his shoulder: Sorry to come without an appointment.
Dr R waves it away: That's perfectly alright. Sit. Sit.
Ashu takes a chair and pats Aasha's back as she gurgles and tries to wave her hands and kick her legs: I wanted to introduce you to my daughter..Aasha.
Dr R leans forward to touch the baby's hair: Oh hello there beautiful! Hi Aasha..nice meeting you. (Ashu turns her so that Dr R can get a better look. Her ummm is followed by her fist once again getting stuffed into her mouth. All three laugh at that. Dr R smilingly looks at Ashu.) I don't think you would be needing another appointment, do you?
Ashu looks at Nidhi: No Dr Rishab. I don't need another appointment. Thank you..for everything.
Dr R: My pleasure. Although I can't take the entire credit. Its your own will power and the support of your family that has helped you in cutting off the roots of fear in your mind. (All three get up and Dr R extends his hand to Ashu.) Wish you all the best. (Nidhi makes a move to take Aasha from him so that he can shake the doctor's hand but Aasha has a tight grip on his collar and refuses to release it. Dr Rishab's grin widens.) Father's darling daughter already, I see!
Ashu's throat clogs up and he swallows a couple of times before nodding and hugging his daughter closer to his heart: Yes Dr Rishab. She is her father's darling daughter. (His eyes turn towards his wife as he extends his free hand to her.) Chale?
She nods and places her hand in his. Both of them come out of the clinic and get into the car: Toh ab?
Ashu fastens the belt on Aasha's car seat before coming to the driver's side: Ab! I am going to take some time off Nidhi..(He shrugs) May be a month or so.
Nidhi's face lights up: Kahi ghoomne chale?
Ashu glares: With a barely 2 month old baby? Most definitely not Dr Nidhi Mathur. (He pushes the tendrils of hair that have fallen on her forehead.) Lets just catch up Nidhi..spend some time together..as family..with friends..Armaan..Anji..lets get to know each other all over again.
Nidhi nods and with a small yelp leans forward and gives a smacking kiss on his cheek.
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