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He sees apparent surprise, slight nervousness and anticipation in those eyes. But the reigning emotion in those eyes is: Complete surrender.
He holds her face and closes in for a kiss. As he does so, both their eyes drift shut slowly. The very moment his eyes close, Nidhi's face flashed before his eyes. He hastily opens his eyes and abruptly leaves her face, almost shoving her away. No, I can't do this to Mallika. Agar is waqt mera dimaag thikane pe nahi hai toh why did I come here? Is waqt main apne aape me nahi hoon. Ye kya karne jaa raha tha main? I should leave before I do something that I will regret later.
He almost runs out of the kitchen and makes a dash for the main door, saying, "Mallika, mujhe is waqt yahan nahi aana chahiye tha, I'm sorry. Kal office me milte hain", and is gone before she can even react.
Mallika stood there stunned and confused. What happened to him suddenly? Is he restless these days, because he wants me? Because he wants to.. But, he never looks at me like that? There is something terribly wrong with him. Earlier, I thought it was just a phase, and it will pass. I thought he was just stressed about some case or something. I thought may be he is feeling pressurized by our relationship, so I backed off, giving him time and space. I never expect anything from him or atleast don't show him that I expect anything. Phir kya hua hai use? Kyun is tarah ajeeb sa restless sa rehne laga hai? KYUN?
The odd thing is that I felt no passion in him or in myself, when, just now he took me in his arms like that for just a few seconds. His first such touch should have evoked.. I don't know.. Am I thinking too much? No, there was something strange about the way he.. he touched me right now, wasn't there a kind of reluctance in him? As if he felt forced.. what the heck am I thinking about? Have I gone crazy?
Should I talk to someone? Maybe Armaan? But we already talked about it right? He is as clueless about Ashutosh's current state of mind as I am. And obviously, I can't tell him, what happened just now, can I?
I really don't know what to think and what not to think? What sparked the momentary passion, if at all it was passion, in him just now? Was it because he never saw in my nighty-gown before? But why did he leave like that? I did not stop him, did I? Did I inadvertently give him a wrong message that I m not okay with it? No, I don't think so. Okay, I'll just keep going in circles if I keep thinking like this. Let me do this instead – I'll observe him for a day or two. And if I still don't get to the bottom of this, I will have a straight forward talk with him.
Having arrived at a decision, she slowly relaxes taking a deep breathe, closes the main door of her house and slowly walks towards her bedroom. Sleep obviously evades her for a long time. But little does she realize at this point, that sound sleep is going to be an unattainable luxury for her, for the next many nights!
Next morning, Mallika SMSes him, "Please pick me up from home today. My car is in garage for servicing."
His reply is brief, "Okay".
She gets ready and waits for him. However, she is surprised to see Armaan's car drive in. Anyways, she waved to him, locked her house and went to take the passenger seat and said, "Hi, good morning"
"Good morning. Ashu ka phone aaya tha, usne kaha ke main tumhe pick kar loon."
She nodded, "Thanks" and sat back in a contemplative mood. Why did he send Armaan? Mera ghar uske ghar se zyaada paas padta hai. Din ba din ajeeb hota jaa raha hai Ashutosh. Am I again thinking too much? Shayad use koi kaam hoga..
Armaan jolts her out of her thoughts by saying softly, "Kahan kho gayi?"
She gives a slight shake of her head, "Kahin nahi"
"Mallika agar bura na maano toh ek baat poochhun?
"Poochho na Armaan, why are you hesitating?"
"Mallika, waise toh ye tum dono ka aapas ka maamla hai aur mujhe beech me nahi bolna chahiye, shayad. Lekin, I can't stop myself. Tum dono ke beech kuch .. I mean sab theek haina?"
Mallika sighs, "I wish Armaan, I could answer it myself."
"What do you mean? Look, did you guys have a fight or something?"
She gave a wry smile, "I wish woh mera saath ladta jhagadta. Atleast ye toh pata chalta ke baat kya hai. But tumhe aisa kyun laga Armaan ki we have had a fight. Usne kuch kaha kya tumse?"
"Nahi Mallika, aisa kuch nahi hai. He sounded low and then he asked me to pick you up. I said, 'tere ghar se zyaada paas hai, are you busy or something?' he simply said, 'please Armman tu jaa na uske paas'. And that was it. I thought.."
She shook her head sadly, "You know Armaan, since 2-3 days especially, I feel as if .. as .. I don't even know him. It's as if he is a complete stranger."
"Yeah he IS acting weird these days. Mallika I thought it was some case bothering him, lekin I checked in office aisa toh koi case nahi hai uska jo itna stressful ho. Aur abhi tum keh rahi ho ke tumhara aapas me koi jhagda bhi nahi hua, toh phir aakhir baat kya hai?"
Mallika's thoughts go to the previous night again for a few seconds, before she says, "Chinta toh ab mujhe bhi ho rahi hai.. kisi tarah pata toh lagana hoga na?"
Armaan lightly pounded his fist on the steering wheel, "haan, lekin kaise?.. Kuch poochhenge toh batayega toh nahi. Kya Karen? ..Uncle ko shayad pata hoga.. kya kehti ho? Abhi Ashu toh nikal gaya hoga, uncle se milne chalen?"
She thinks for a while, then slowly shakes her head, "No, I don't think that's a good idea. Mujhe nahi lagta ke unhe kuch pata hai. Agar hota toh.. rehne do, woh khamakha pareshaan ho jaayenge. I think ek do din aur dekhte hain. Ho sakta hai, ye ek passing phase ho?" I hope it's actually a passing phase, but my instincts are telling me it's something major.
He nods, "hmm.. I guess you are right. We should give it a day or two." And he forces his eyes back on the road, only a second too late. He has collided with a lady on a Honda Activa. Since the collision is slight, the lady manages to break her fall and tries to control her vehicle from falling.
"Oh no!" he exclaims and gets down immediately, with Mallika following suit. He rushed over and helped the lady steady the Activa, as she tried to balance herself. As she gets down from the Activa and pulls her helmet away, "I am extremely sorry, I did not see you in time."
She waves it off, "It's okay, the mistake was mine I think. I was speeding" she gives an apologetic smile.
He takes a closer look at her face and says tentatively, "I.. I think I have seen you before"
The girl's smile slips and she glares at him, "Yeh line marne wala ghisa pita dialog maine bahut baar movies me suna hai. Dikhne me toh shareef lagte ho, lekin.. Ladki dekhi nahi ke chance marna shuru kar deto ho..."
Taken aback at her insinuation, he glares back at her, "Oye Madam, aap galat fahmi ki chalti phirti dukaan hain. Mujhe kya zaroorat padi hai kisi pe line maarne ki?"
"Dekhiye Mister.. Is waqt pahle hi mujhe der ho rahi hai.." and started the Activa.
Armaan gets in a flirtatious mood, "Achchhaji, humara sukun chheen ke aap kahan bhaagi jaa rahi hain?"
Mallika rolls his eyes, and says to the girl, "I am sorry. Inki toh aadat hai kahin bhi shuru ho jaate hain. (Sternly to Armaan) Armaan chalen, Ashutosh wait kar raha hoga office me." And she drags Armaan to the car.
The girl is about to drive away, when the names Armaan and Ashutosh ring a bell in her mind, "Excuse me? Are you Advocate Armaan Chaturvedi?"
Armaan nods amused, "I did not know I was that famous!"
The girl does not know how to react to that, "Ji, I'm Anjalika Solanki, Advocate Kapil Solanki's daughter."
Armaan suddenly gets serious, "Oh Anji? Aapke father se aapka naam bahut suna hai. No wonder mujhe laga ke maine aap ko dekha hai. I think.. I visited your house once, but aapko shayad us din bhi kahin jaane ke liye der ho rahi hogi.. as you were in hurry..."
She shrugs, "yeah maybe. I'm sorry maine aapko pehchaana nahi."
He waves it off, "I'm sorry too, I didn't mean to.. you know.. Aadat se majboor hoon. Isiliye kahin bhi mazaak karne lagta hoon. I hope mere woh ghise pite hindi movies ke dialogues mujhe aapki nazroon me villan nahi bana denge.", he says in an embarrassed tone.
Anji gives an awkward laugh, "No no Mr. Chaturvedi, please. It's okay"
"So Ms. Solanki, what do you do.. (Suddenly he realizes that they had all, but forgotten Mallika who is looking at the exchange indulgently. He gives an embarrassed nod in Mallika's direction) Oh I'm so sorry, let me introduce Ms. Trehan. Ms. Mallika Trehan. She is a partner in our firm."
Both women exchange polite hellos. Then Anji says rather abruptly, "Nidhi? How is she doing in your firm?"
Armaan shrugs noncommitedly, "she seems to be.. uh.. learning."
Anji gives him an understanding nod, and then suddenly says, "Sorry, I 'm getting terribly late for college."
"College?" he quips.
She nods, "I am doing my Masters in Fashion Design" and mounts the Activa.
"I see. Anyways nice to meet you."
"Same here" she says hurriedly as she puts on the helmet and zooms away.
Mallika is amused to see Armaan still staring in her direction and waving his hand in a bye until the Activa finally disappears from their view.
She pats her shoulder, "Woh toh gayi. Hum bhi chalen?"
He comes out of his trance and nods sheepishly.
As they enter the office, Armaan and Mallika go to Ashutosh's cabin to greet him. They are surprised to see Ashutosh having an animated discussion with Nidhi. Both stopped in their tracks. It was a while since they had seen their friend talking like this. Though Mallika's first reaction was relief to see Ashutosh talking normally, being his lively self, her instinct warned her about something else. But before she could even probe deeper into her instinct, Ashutosh looked up and very awkwardly said, "hi" to both of them before saying to Nidhi, "Okay Ms. Verma, prepare the draft please and show me."
"Sure sir, (gets up and as she passes Armaan and Mallika) "Good morning Sir, Ma'am." They nod and she exits the cabin.
Armaan says, "chal, main kaam pe lagta hoon" and rushed to his cabin, leaving Mallika alone with Ashutosh.
Ashutosh could not meet her eyes, and set about arranging his already arranged files on the table. Mallika went near him and touched his arm, "Ashutosh, tum.. tum theek hona?"
He averts his gaze, "haan.. I'm fine. Baitho? Kuch kaam tha?"
She sits on a visitor chair, "Baat kya hai Ashutosh? Why are you so restless? Aur abhi toh achche bhale the, jab Nidhi ke saath discussion kar rahe the."
Ashutosh cursed himself. He had got carried away in Nidhi's presence in spite of his resolve. But it was Mallika's next question that jolted him:
"Ashutosh, humari engagement tumhare liye ghutan toh nahin ban gayi na?"
He looked at her in complete shock, "Ye tum kaisi baat kar rahi ho Mallika? Ye khayal bhi tumhare dimaag me kaise aaya?"
"Toh phir kal raat.."
Ashutosh cringes visibly, "Mallika, I am very sorry for last night. I should not have come. Please.."
"Ashutosh tum galat samajh rahe ho.."
"Mallika, I'm sorry, kal raat jo bhi hua bahut galat hua. Mujhse bahut badi galati ho ga.."
"Mujhe toh kuch galat nahi laga. We are engaged. Aur we are not living in the stone ages.. If you felt like.." she stopped clearly embarrassed.
Mallika, how do I tell you? What do I tell you? What I did was very wrong.. I did not do it because I felt anything like that for you.. it was because I felt.. Tumse kahoon bhi toh kya kahoon Mallika? Main toh din ba din khud ki nazron me girta jaa raha hoon.. "Mallika, please can we stop this topic right here?PLEASE"
Reluctantly, she nodded, "Theek hai. Chalo, main mera kaam dekhti hoon" and she got up. However, she decides to observe him closely
At lunch time, in order to cheer Ashutosh, Armaan decides to have an impromptu Mexican treat for the staff, as Ashutosh liked Mexican. All the staff gathered in the main work area of the office. Ashutosh finished an urgent call and emerged from his cabin to see there was an empty chair near Mallika. He realized that it was meant for him. Even though he was not very comfortable with the idea, he thought it better to try to get his discomfort over previous night's incident. However, as he was about to sit next to Mallika, Nidhi took the chair which was right across the table. Oh No! Why does she have to sit opposite me? Why? He bypassed that chair and took the only other empty chair, which was next to Armaan, so that now Armaan is seated between him and Mallika.
The younger staff including the juniors and receptionist start chatting about anything and everything. While Armaan takes part whole heartedly, Ashutosh is busy throwing covert glances at Nidhi, and Mallika observing him closely. Suddenly Mallika starts coughing. Ashutosh immediately takes one of the water bottles kept on the cabinet behind him and gives it to Armaan, "Use paani do, jaldi Armaan."
She gulps down some water and the coughing stops after a while. Ashutosh asks her, "You okay?"
She nods, "Sauce kuch zyaada hi teekha tha. I'm fine now."
Just then, Nidhi starts coughing. Without even realizing what he is doing in plain view of everyone, Ashutosh hastily gets up, grabs another bottle, rushes over to her and thrusts the bottle right before her mouth, after opening its cap. She takes the bottle and starts drinking, still coughing. He can't help himself from patting her back, touching her for the first time (except handshakes).
Everyone stares at them dumbfounded. When her coughs stop, he sees the almost empty bottle and asks her tenderly, "Are you okay Nidhi?.. I am sorry Ms. Verma? (As she nods), You need more water?" She shakes her head, "No sir, main theek hoon. Thank you". It is then that he realizes that all eyes are on him. With a lot of trepidation, he looks at Mallika who is staring at him in shock. Unable to stand it anymore, he says "I'm full" and goes straight to his cabin, cursing himself.
Mallika says to Ashutosh towards the end of the second day, "Ashutosh, tumhari woh junior.. kya naam hai uska, .. haan Nidhi.. is she really good?"
Caught off-guard by the question, he blurted out, "She is great Mallika!" Then, he continued sheepishly, "Uh I mean.. yes.. she is good. Tum kyun pooch rahi thi?"
"Nahi main ye soch rahi thi ke agar if you are going to fire her in the near future, toh I have two good potential candidates", she said observing him narrowly.
He almost shouted, "tum aur Armaan dono? Why are you hell bent on firing her?"
She looked up shocked, "Why are you shouting at me like this Ashutosh?"
He looked at her guiltily and said softly, "I am sorry Mallika. I did not mean to shout, pata nahi aaj kal mujhe kya ho gaya hai. I m really sorry".
"It's okay Ashutosh"
Then he said gently but firmly, "Look Mallika, Nidhi has a lot of potential. She will be a successsful lawyer one day. I can guarantee that."
More than his words, it was the look in his eyes when he spoke, that broke something inside Mallika. Anyways, she controlled herself and said, "agar aisa hai Ashutosh, toh I would like her to work with me, if you don't mind. Thode din Koel tumhe assist karegi toh tumhe koi problem toh nahi hogi na?"
Though stunned, Ashutosh welcomed the idea. It would be the best way to be away from Nidhi, without sacking her and ruining her career. He said without hesitation, "Sure Mallika, main khud bhi yehi kehna chahta tha."
She looked surprised, "Kya? Ke Nidhi mere saath kaam kare?"
He looked sheepish again, "Haan. You see.. these days.. I.. I mean I feel stressed.. I don't why.." Why I'm fumbling so much?
She said in a strange tone, "I understand perfectly Ashutosh", unnerving him further.
The next late evening, when Nidhi and Anji were watching tv in Nidhi's room and Anji said, "kya hua? Aaj office me kuch hua kya? Mood kharaab hai tera?"
She shrugged, "Kuch nahi"
"Nidhi, tune phir se kuch galti kya? Tu kabhi nahi sudheregi na?"
Nidhi was irritated and said tearfully, "Har koi mujhe hi kyun galat samajhta hai? Meri toh khud kuch samajh nahi aaraha ki kal tak toh Sir mujhse kaafi khush the, aaj achanak mujhe Mallika Madam ke paas kyun bhej diya?"
Anji sighs in relief, "Itni si baat? Hoga koi reason. Tujhe toh kaam karne se matlab haina? Kisi ke bhi saath ho kya farak padhta hai. Maybe that Mallika madam will teach you something different. Acha haina? You will get to learn different things with different people."
"Yeah but I don't enjoy working with her yaar, she is too boring.. Ashutosh Sir itna acha explain karte hain ke, it's so so interesting ke mujhe pyaar ho gaya hai legal profession se. I want to work as a lawyer now Anji – bada mazaa aata hai yaar law me. It gives me such an high, when I draft a paper and he appreciates me. Bekaar hi maine itna time waste kiya ghar baith ke, LLB ke baad."
Anji feels really happy to see her friend this way. It looks like she has found a purpose in her otherwise aimless life. Anji mentally thanks Ashutosh for sparking this desire in Nidhi to do something constructive with her life.
The next morning, while they are discussing, Mallika sees Ashutosh staring past her outside his cabin, which is open by chance. She turns around to see Nidhi talking on phone. Due to the distance, they can't hear a word of what she is saying on the phone. Mallika keeps observing the two. While talking, Nidhi suddenly frowns, which makes Ashutosh look towards her in concern. After a few seconds, when she laughs into the phone, Ashutosh's face also reflects a serene smile.
The rest of the day passes on the same note. Ashutosh, though still restless is somewhat relieved that he does not have to share space with Nidhi. Hopefully, my silly infactuation will soon pass. Although I still can't stop my eyes from seeking her whenever possible. But for the most part, it's enough for me that she is right outside my cabin or next door with Mallika. Hell, why am I still thinking so much about her?
With an effort, he shakes off Nidhi from his thoughts. But then, his thoughts run in a different direction. Why is Armaan behaving so.. so indifferently with me? Even Mallika? Did I hurt them or something? Aajkal main apni uljhan me aise fasa hoon..
Just then his phone rings, "hello.. haan boliye.. oh okay.. theek hai office me bhijwa dijiye.. ok.. thanks" He hangs up and then picks up the intercom. "Mallika printers ka phone tha, party ke cards taiyaar hain. Main soch raha tha ke aaj evening me chalen? To distribute them and invite everyone?"
"Ashutosh, kal rakhen? Aaj shaam ko office se seedha tum mere ghar aa jaana. Important kaam hai."
"Kya hua Mallika? Sab theek hai? You are sounding low. Ruko main aata hoon tumhare paas."
She says hastily, "nahi abhi main busy hoon. Please don't disturb me."
He was stunned, she had never spoken to him like that. He ventured again, "Okay, I'll let you know when the cards arrive"
She replied curtly,"No need." Then said in a normal voice, "Main thodi der me ghar jaa rahi hoon, kuch kaam hai. Shaam ko mere ghar pe milte hain," she abruptly puts down the intercom and wipes her tears. I am sorry Ashutosh! Mere paas aur koi option nahi hai. Armaan, who is sitting right opposite her, gives her an understanding look but says, "Mallika, ek baar aur soch lo"
She says, "Soch hi toh rahi hoon pichhle do dino se. Maine faisla kar liya hai. Please Armaan, is waqt mujhe tumhare support ki zaroorat hai, naaki tumse argue karne ki. Mere liye bhi ye sab baahut mushkil hai. Main is waqt kamzor nahi pad sakti."
"I understand Mallika, I am with you all the way."
Armaan gets up and goes to his cabin, to be followed by Ashutosh within a minute.
"Armaan, yaar Mallika ko kya hua hai?"
Armaan glares at him and says sarcastically, "Kyun? kya hua hai? Achchhi bhali toh hai. Main abhi abhi uski cabin se hi aa raha hoon. She is literally dancing with joy."
Ashutosh shouts, "Armaan, will you tell me what the matter is? Wait, main abhi usse hi poochhta hoon" and moves towards her cabin.
Armaan forcefully pulls him back, "Khabardaar Ashutosh, she DOES NOT want to meet you now."
"Aur tu hota kaun hai mujhe rokne wala"
"I am her friend who cares a lot for her, unlike you."
Ashutosh is completely stunned. But, before he can say anything further, Mallika enters the cabin and says, "Nikle Armaan?" He nods immediately, and both move towards the door.
Ashutosh holds her hand, "Mallika!"
Every staff member looks up at them at that. Mallika gives him a stern look and then turns her eyes around the office, as if telling him not to create a scene here. He reluctantly lets go of her hand and she says, "shaam ko baat karte haina."
Ashutosh stood there totally astonished. He felt something was terribly wrong. But, since Armaan and Mallika, both had left, he had to stay in the office till closing time.
Finally, he rushes to Mallika's house as soon as the office closes. The house seems in a bustle. He sees a couple of suitcases near the main door. Heart sinking and thoroughly confused, he rushed in and saw Armaan and Mallika in the drawingroom.
As soon as they both saw Ashutosh, Armaan said, "Chalta hoon Mallika, aadhe ghante me aa jaaoonga tumhe airport drop karne" and as she nodded, he left.
Ashutosh did not know what or how to ask her, "Mallika, ye sab? Tum.. tum kahin jaa rahi ho."
She nods and gives him a small jewelry box, "I need to give you this."
"Ye? Ye kya hai." He opens the box to find the engagement ring he gave her, "Mallika.. ye"
She says in an even calm tone, "I am breaking off our engagement". There was no hint of accusation in her voice.
He staggered, "Kyun? Mallika, look I'm sorry if I hurt you. But suddenly, ye kya hua? Aur teen din baad humari engagement party hai Mallika."
"Sach hi kehte hain Ashutosh, jo hota hai achchhe ke liye hota hai. Achchha hi hua jo tumhare birthday ke din meri flight delay ho gayi.."
"Stop it Mallika" he caught her shoulders, "Kya ho gaya hai tumhe? Hosh me toh ho?"
"Haan Ashutosh, main toh bilkul hosh me hoon.."
"Really?" he sneered, tightened his grip on her shoulders, looked into her eyes and asked in an angry tone, "Aur main tumhare is poore hoshohawaas me liye gaye decision ki wajah jaan sakta hoon?"
She replied without flinching, looking straight into his eyes, "Kyun ki tum Nidhi ko chahne lage ho. You are in love with her!"
Hearing this, Ashutosh immediately leaves her and averts her eyes, "Ye kya bak rahi ho Mallika?"
"Wohi keh rahi hoon jo sach hai"
He smashes his fist on the dining table, "ENOUGH MALLIKA!"
She remains calm, "tumhare inkaar karne se sachchai nahi badlegi Ashutosh"
No one speaks for the 2 minutes or so. Ashutosh goes to the refrigerator, takes out a bottle of water and gulps it down in one go.
He returns to her and says in a guilt-laden voice, "Mallika, yes I accept, I'm attracted to her. Although I'm disgusted with myself, but yes I have to admit that I am attracted to her. Aur kyun ki main humare rishte ke neev imaandaari aur bharose pe rakhna chahta hoon, isiliye main tumhe sab batata hoon, shuru se batata hoon".
She listened silently, while he recounted the events, right from the incident when they were on a visit to Swami Asvaghosha to seeing her outside the office and meeting her in his birthday party. He ended it with, "So, you see, its just attraction. It will pass."
She says tentatively, "We will come to that later, first you tell me Swamiji ne usne kya kaha tha Sanskrit me?"
He averts his eyes, "yaad nahi hai Mallika. Aur waise bhi main sirf Baba ke kehne pe hi gaya tha wahan. I don't believe in all this"
"Tumne toh meri baat ka jawab nahi diya lekin mujhe jawab mil gaya."
He looks up at her, but she waves it off, "Woh chhodo. And let me tell you Ashutosh, agar ye sirf attraction hota toh I would never have backed out of our engagement. YOU LOVE NIDHI Ashutosh."
"Stop it Mallika. Enough!"
"If I stop it, the truth won't be changed"
"Mallika tumhare keh dene se ye sach nahi ban jaayega."
"Nahi, lekin I tested you to see if it was attraction or love"
He looked at her as if she had gone mad, "Tumhe idea hai ke tum kya bol rahi ho? Kaisa test"
"Okay, shaanti se, dhyaan se sunna aur samajhne ki koshish karna. Us raat ke baad, I have been observing you closely, because I got worried about you. Initially even I thought it was an attraction, but then I had doubts. I also realized that you are trying to fight your feelings for her. So, I asked you about firing her. And the way you got angry, I thought it was attraction. But later you said she has a bright future and all that. Us waqt tumhari aankhon me chamak thi Ashutosh. You care so much about her, her future, her career. Usko khud ko bhi apne career ki itni chinta nahi hai jitni tumhe hai. Aur phir jab maine tumse kaha ke let her work under me, tum jatt se maan gaye. You looked almost relieved in fact. And I understand why. If you were just attracted, you would either have wanted her with you as much as possible or you would have fired her to get over her. You panic when she coughs, you are concerned when she so much as frowns, you smile when she smiles. Ye pyaar nahi toh aur kya hai? I am telling you Ashutosh, it IS love."
He was totally stupefied. After a few minutes of silence, he said, "Mallika you know this is sheer nonsense. Right? Even if you are right, what do you think I should do? Agar main usse pyaar karta bhi .. ye sab bolne me bhi ghinn aati hai mujhe"
"Kyun? What's there to be ashamed of? It's not a sin to fall in love? Aur naahi ye hamare haath me hota hai Ashutosh. Pyaar ho jaata hai"
"Mallika, ye baaten filmon me, kitabon me achchhi lagti hain. Aur kuch nahi toh kam se kam ye toh socho, ke woh mujhse kam se kam 15-20 saal chhoti hai"
"14 saal chhoti hai. Does that matter so much?"
"I am shocked Mallika, ke tum meri fiance hokar aisi baaten.."
"No, as your friend. Our engagement was a bad decision and in your heart of hearts you know that. Bas Ashutosh, bahut ho gaya. Let's not drag it anymore."
"What? Mera aur Nidhi ka koi mel nahi, woh toh mujhe is nazar se dekhti tak nahi. Mallika, we are better suited for each other – our likes, dislikes match. We think alike, we are at par intellectually as well emotionally."
"Maanti hoon ye baaten matter karti hain. But.."
"Bas.. tum ek decision liya ab main ek decision leta hoon. Your decision is that we won't be having our engagement party after 3 days. I agree with that. But maine bhi ek final decision liya hai. "
"We are getting MARRIED after 3 days. Mere is paagalpan ka yehi ilaaj hai."
She is stunned. "Theek hai agar tum yehi chahte ho yehi sahi", she says resignedly.
"Thank you Mallika." He was relieved.
"Lekin meri ek shart hai."
He is apprehensive at the way, she said that. "Kaisi shart?"
"Very simple. Look straight into my eyes and promise me that when you are with me, you will not think about Nidhi. That after our marriage, her very existence will be erased from your mind and your heart."
He averted his eyes, "Mallika ye tum kaisi baaten kar rahi ho. You tell me one thing: Do you love me?"
"I thought so, now, I don't know", she lied.
He shouted in desperation, "Jhooth mat bolo"
"Main bhi yehi keh rahi hoon. Jhooth mat bolo – na mujhse, na khudse. Nidhi tumhare dil se nahi jaayegi, chaahe tum kuch bhi karlo."
"So, what do you think I should do? Propose her?"
"And if she refuses?"
"What the hell are you talking about here Mallika. Look Mallika, please marry me. Please help me get over this stupid infatuation."
"Ashutosh, I am always there to help you. But I can't marry you"
"Why Mallika? Pahle se hi tum jaanti thi that I don't love you the way you do. Toh phir ab kya ho gaya?"
"Tab baat aur thi. Tab main jaanti thi ki, if you don't love me, then you don't love anyone else too."
"Mallika, please trust me. We will make our marriage, our relationship work. I promise."
She smiles sarcastically, "Aise rishte pretense pe nahi tikte. I know maybe you are feeling guilty and all but.."
"Pretense?" he is shocked.
She nods, "Yeah that's what we have been doing since our so called engagement. And don't you dare deny it. Agar tumhe meri feelings reciprocate karni hoti toh college me hi karlete. But we were never meant to be."
"Mallika, please.. (he stops, not knowing what to say) Chalo tum kehti ho toh kuch der ke liye maan bhi loon ke I love her, but what if Nidhi does not reciprocate my feelings?"
"I told you before na, woo her"
"But you won't marry me under any circumstances now?"
She firmly shakes her head, "Mera self respect mujhe iski ijaazat nahi dega."
He reels under the force of her words, "Self respect?"
She nods, "No self-respecting woman will knowingly marry a man who is in love with another."
He is completely beaten by now. He accepts his defeat with a week nod.
"Okay Mallika, lekin, tum jaa kahan rahi ho? Aur kitne din ke liye?"
"US jaa rahi hoon apni cousin ke paas. Kitne din ke liye, ye toh main bhi nahi jaanti."
Is this some nightmare? Mujhe aaj shocks hi shocks mil rahe hain.
"Mallika, you can't go off like this. Agar tum mujhse door jaana chahti ho toh theek hai, main chala jaata hoon."
"Ashutosh, har baat me argue karna zaroori hai kya? I need a change. Yahan se kahin door jaana tha mujhe aur meri cousin bhi kitne saalon se bula rahi thi mujhe."
"Aur humari firm? Mallika, in case you have forgotten, you are a partner in our firm."
"Yes, I don't need reminding that. Don't worry, for the time being, I will be a sleeping partner. Maine Armaan ko papers sign kar ke de diye hain. Wapas aake dekhti hoon kya karna hai".
Ashutosh looks at her with guilt and remorse. I ruined her life. I was her life. The firm was her life. Why did Nidhi come into my life. WHY?
They were both silent for a while, then Armaan came and picked up the suitcases. He completely ignored Ashutosh and said to Mallika, "Main bahar wait kar raha hoon. No hurry, take your time."
"Chalti hoon Ashutosh." She picks up her purse and laptop bag.
"Main chaloon airport?"
"Okay Mallika, I am more sorry than I can say."
"There is nothing to feel sorry about or apologize. Please don't blame yourself. We were never meant to be."
He gulps hard at that. I am losing such a large-hearted person, such a genuine friend due to my silly infactuation!
He hugs her, "apna khayal rakhna and if I'm not asking for too much, please stay in touch."
"Of course, I will call you and email you. You too take care and think about what I said. Go and try to win Nidhi's heart. I am sure she won't be able to resist you for long," she smiled.
"Mallika did I tell you that you are a great human being."
"Thanks. You are not that bad yourself."
They smiled sadly at that and silently walked towards the main door. She locks it and sits in Armaan's waiting car while he closes the car door.
"Bye Ashutosh. All the best"
"Thanks Mallika, And you take care. Bye."
With that, Armaan starts the car and drives away.
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