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Chapter 16: Final Chapter:
All their yearning for each other, their pent up desires and their mutual passion led to an intense yet tender night of love, discovery and melting in each other arms. It was at dawn that their bodies finally gave way and they went to sleep blissfully cocooned in each others arms, with the aura of love surrounding them.
The late morning rays made Ashutosh squint open his eyes. He lazily looked towards the clock, "11.28! My goodness!" he exclaimed in surprise.
This immediately awoke Nidhi, who stirs in her deep slumber; she was lying almost completely atop him. She raised her head to look at him worriedly, "Kya hua?"
"Its almost 11:30" he says in a horrified tone.
She is confused, "So?"
"Aaj tak main kabhi itni der se nahi utha."
The way he says that, she finds it difficult not to laugh, but how can she laugh when he is so mortified. She firmly presses her lips together and puts her head back on his chest, trying her best not to burst out laughing, but her body starts shaking with silent laughter.
He is miffed, "Tumhe hasi aa rahi hai?"
Barely has he finished, when the room explodes with her giggles. She rolls off him onto the bed as she tries her best to stop her laughter. He looks at her tenderly, You are like a breeze of fresh spring air after a parched dry spell. just keep laughing like this forever!
She breaks his reverie, "Kya hua Kumpel?"
He shakes his head and takes her in his arms, "kuch nahi. And I thought we settled it last night"
She blushes, what is he talking about? "Settled what?"
"That you wont call me Kumpel anymore"
She thinks for a while, "Okay then, miene Liebe?"
He shakes his head empathically.
"Ok, (she says dotingly) Ashutoshji"
"No ji, just Ashutosh"
"You know I can't"
He nuzzles her bare shoulder, "Kyun? Raat ko toh.."
She cuts in, "woh toh.. "she stops abruptly, her face flushed.
"Woh toh kya?"
She says pouting, "You forced me in the most merciless way"
He kisses her pout, "Oh, did I? Let me try again", he pulls her closer.
She tries to get out of his grip, "Please.. abhi nahi.. aah..uh.. Kumpel.. chhodiye na" but he continues to torture her sweetly.
Suddenly, she hears something, "Shayad landline baj raha hai.."
He does not relent, "Bahaana achchha hai.."
"Really Ashutosh, phone baj raha hai. Suniye toh"
BBs voice is obviously relieved, "Thank God Ashu, tune phone uthaya. Kitni der se try kar raha hoon. Tum dono ka mobile bhi nahi lag raha tha. You have any idea, how worried I was?"
By now, even Nidhi has reached there, having put on a kaftan. Ashutosh just blurts out, "Sorry Baba, hum so rahe.." he stops abruptly, realizing his slip up.
BB gets hyper, "Abhi tak so rahe the? Kya hua? Sab theek haina? Tabiyat toh theek haina tum dono ki? Main agli flight pakad ke wapas aata hoon."
Ashutosh hits his forehead, "Ji Baba, hum bilkul theek hai.. aap.. aap chinta mat kijiye."
"Tu life me pahli baar 12 baje tak utha nahi, main chinta kaise nahi karoon?"
Ashutosh sighs, Baba bhi na! "Nahin, woh Baba raat ko ek case pe kaam kar rahe the isiliye sone me der ho gayi."
Barely had he finished when Nidhi bursts out into uncontrollable peels of laughter. He glares at her, while his father asks, "Ye Nidhi has kyun rahi hai?"
He sees the opportunity and looks at her challengingly, "Baba, wohi aap ko batayegi, why she is laughing. Lijiye baat kijiye.." and he pushes the cordless into her hands, after putting it on speaker.
She controls herself and says, "Hello Baba, kaise hain? Wahan zyada thand toh nahi haina? Maine sweater rakha tha aapke suitcase me."
"Beta main toh theek hoon. Aur yahan thand bhi nahi lekin tum kaise ho?"
By now, Ashutosh has come around and back-hugged her. His bare torse sends a shiver down her spine and his masculine scent threatens to drown her. She is barely able to speak, "Ji hum.. hum theek hain."
"Aur ye Ashu phir kaunse case ko leke itna tense hai? Poori raat jaag ke kaam kiya?"
At that, he tightens his grip on her and nuzzles her shoulders, "aah, Kuch nahi..Baba woh tense nahi hain.. (His nuzzling gets provoking and she pushes him away) Aur case ke baare me ye batayen to better rahega"
And she shoves the cordless into his hands and runs away to the kitchen. He says, "Baba aap teerth pe gaye hain. Wahan ye sab cases courts ke baare me mat sochiye."
"Theek hai Ashu, tum dono ke liye hi toh prarthna karne aaya hoon."
He smiles, aapki teerth yaatra ka phal toh mil hi gaya hai Baba. His focus is again claimed, when his father says in an admonishing tone, "Lekin beta aajkal tu cases ko bahut zyaada hi seriously lene laga hai. Is tarah raat ko jaagke kaam karna achchhi baat nahi hai. Tu kab samjhega Ashu, you are married now. (Ashutosh shakes his head ruefully as BB continues) Beta, kuch time Nidhi ko bhi diya kar, aajkal kuch boojhi boojhi si lagti hai. Uska thoda khayal rakh beta."
"Ji Baba, aap bilkul chinta mat kijiye. Aap apna khayal rakhiye aur main aap ki bahu ka poora poora khayal rakhoonga. "
"Bahu nahi Ashu, woh ab meri beti hai. Chal rakhta hoon, mandir ke dwaar bhi khul gaye hain. Apna aur Nidhi ka khayal rakhna."
" Ji, you too take care. Aur zyaada gheewala Prasad wagere mat khaiyega."
"Nahi khaaoonga. Ab toh apne pote potiyon ke saath khelna hai."
"Baba! Rakhta hoon."
Something Baba said got him anxious. He went to the kitchen, "Nidhi.."
"Nothing doing now. Chaliye jaldi se, go and freshen up. Chai rakhi hai."
"Nidhi, baat toh suno.."
"Kya hua, aap itne serious kyun ho gaye?"
He says in a worried tone, "We didnt.. I didnt use protection last night!"
She is confused for a moment, then realizes what he is talking about. She brushes it off with a casual smile, "So?"
He is stunned, "What do you mean by so? What if you have got pregnant?"
She smiles with mischief, "So?"
He shouts, "Mazaak ki baat nahi hai Nidhi!"
"Aap itne serious kyun ho rahe hain? Don't you want kids?"
He calms down a bit, "No, its not that. But isnt it too soon?"
"Why? (Seeing that he is about to launch into a speech kind of thing) Look, lets talk about it later. Abhi aap fresh ho jaiye. Chai taiyaar hai."
By the time he comes out of the restroom in a white kurta over his tracks, she has two mugs of tea, all ready on the small teapoy in their room, "Arre, tum toh subah coffee peeti ho na? Where is your coffee?"
She goes towards the restroom, "Ab se chai peeoongi. Aap shuru kijiye, I'll just freshen up." And she goes inside and shuts the door.
When she comes out, she is surprised to see him just entering the room with a mug in his hand. Both sit on the couch, and he hands her the coffee, "Love does not mean, you change yourself according to me. (He tenderly cups her face with his palms) Maine tum jaisi ho, usi Nidhi se pyaar kiya hai. Don't ever change yourself, I admire you as you are, I love the Nidhi I married."
Nidhi is overwhelmed, "But Kumpel, I am more at peace with who I am trying to be now. Jab main peechhe mud ke khud ko dekhti hoon na, toh I am disgusted with myself. (seeing that he is about to protest) Kumpel, please, I am not changing for yourself, I am changing for my own happiness. So that I can atleast meet my own eyes when I look at the mirror. I need your help. Won't you help me?"
Ashutosh closed his eyes, what have I done? In my thoughtless anger, I have crushed the confidence out of her. Is the same person, who thought that she was doing a favor to someon even if she said a word to him or her. Is it the same person, who thought, rather knew, she was the best at everything she did? Where did that proud, self confident Nidhi go?
She shakes him, "Kumpel bataiye na? Will you help me?"
He nods, Yes I will get the confident Nidhi back, "Lekin, abhi tum chup chaap coffee piyo."
After taking two sips, he says "Nidhi.."
"Kal se tum office aa jaao na. Otherwise, once again, there will be a long gap."
"umm hmm. Abhi nahi, abhi I just want to enjoy my married life for a while. I want to give me attention to Baba and the house."
"Nidhi, you need not become a typical housewife. Aur ye aajkal sirf saarees ya Indian dresses kyun pahenti ho? I like you in western dresses too. As I said earlier, you need not change yourself for me. Please sweetheart."
"Kumpel, I am not changing myself for you at all. I just told you na. If at all I am changing, its for myself. I feel more at peace with the person I am trying to be now."
He sighs, "Nidhi tum jaisi thi mujhe pasand thi (seeing that she is about to protest) Okay, just remember one thing Nidhi, I will always love you no matter what you become. (She looks at him with emotion-filled eyes and he pulls her closer to kiss her tenderly yet deeply.) So, where do you want to go for honeymoon?"
"Honeymoon? Jahan aap le chalen."
He was about to retort back when he changes his mind, "Okay, it sounds like a challenge. The destination will be a surprise for you. Just hand over your passport to me."
"Lekin passport ki kya zaroorat? Bahar jaane ki kya zaroorat hai? There are a lot of places in India.."
He sighs in exasperation, "Nidhi I asked you. But you left it to me. Now, don't argue.."
"Main toh sirf.."
The rest of her sentence is cut off as he takes over her lips with his lips. After a minute or so, he leaves her, "Remember, I know how to shut your mouth now. So, better watch out before you talk. If it displeases me, this is what you are going to get."
Just then, the door bell rang. She rushed to open it, "Is waqt kaun hoga?"
She opens the door and is surprised to see the pizza delivery boy. "Good noon Ma'm, your order." he says, handing her a large pizza parcel.
"But we never ordered a pizz.."
"I ordered it Nidhi", Ashutosh said, emerging from the room and taking the parcel, having paid him. As Nidhi looks at him surprised, he says closing the door, "Chalo, lets eat first. Dono ko bhookh lagi hai" and drags her to the dining table, where he opens the parcel to reveal her favourite gourmet pizza.
"How did you know? That I am hungry?"
He looks at her flirtatiously, "Anyone would be hungry after a night like that!"
Her cheeks color at that, but then she turns serious, "Lekin aap ko toh pizza nahi pasand na? Main kuch bana deti hoon aapke liye."
He holds her hand before she can go to the kitchen, "Kabhi kabhi achchha lagta hai pizza. Chup chaap baitho."
She sat down and both enjoyed feeding each other and playing some pranks on each other. Nidhi had never enjoyed a pizza so much in her life. She never knew that her husband could convert even a pizza into a romantic dish.
After their stomachs were full, it was time to again feed their libidos. Most of the day and the night passed on a crazed passionate note, as they gave themselves up completely to carnal pleasures, taking breaks only to eat and sleep.
On Monday morning, Armaan called Ashutosh, telling him to stay home for the morning and that there is no urgent work at office. Ashutosh agrees, seeing an excited Nidhi. He tells Armaan that he will come after picking up BB from the airport.
When he comes out of the restroom after his bath, he sees Nidhi on phone talking in whispers. She immediately cuts the call on seeing him and smiles at him. He smiles back, "kisse baat kar rahi thi?"
She is distracted while she takes out her clothes. He backhugs her, "Nidhi kya hua? Kuch pareshaan lag rahi ho?"
He looks straight into her eyes, but she averts them, hurrying inside, "main.. main thodi der me aati hoon" and she closes the restroom door. I am sorry Kumpel, main aapko nahi bata sakti abhi.
Ashutosh is surprised at her behavior. Ho na ho, Nidhi kuch toh chhupa rahi hai mujhse. Lekin kya?
Even during breakfast, she was looking tense and somewhat lost, as if her mind was at some other place.
"Nidhi, tum kisi problem me ho?(she shakes her head) Toh?"
"Kuch nahi..woh bas aise hi.." she doesn't know what to say.
He is surprised, "Achanak? Mandir?"
She pleads, "Please?"
Ye ise ho kya gaya hai? She is not the religious kind at all, phir? Anyways he says, "Theek hai chalte hain, phir wahin se airport jaake Baba ko pickup karenge."
She nods and after breakfast, gets ready in a peach saaree. The restlessness stays with her throughout. He notices it but does not ask her the reason again. At the temple she prayed,"I never asked you for anything, yet you gave me everything. You even blessed me with such a husband whom I dont really deserve. Today, I desparately want something. I have come here to ask you for something. Please let the result be positive! Please God!"
When they picked up BB and HK, even BB noticed her restlessness and silently gestured to Ashutosh to ask whats the matter. Ashutosh shrugged helplessly, telling him that he was clueless too.
When they reached home, they were surprised to see Armaan waiting outside. Ashutosh says, "Arre Armaan tu? Main bas lunch leke office ke liye nikalne hi waala tha."
Nidhi looks at Armaan furtively asking him a question with her eyes. But he ignores it, "Arre uncle aaye hain, woh bhi teerth yatra se toh socha ke Prasad khaata hua aur phir ghar se lunch karke office jaaoon."
"Toh tu kahan gaya tha abhi, office me nahi tha kya?"
By now they are all inside the house. BB distributes the Prasad to everyone. "I had been to high court Ashu. Here is something you must see", and he gives him some papers.
Ashu looks at the papers and then looks at Armaan speechless. Armaan says, "yes Ashu, High Court ne na sirf hamari appeal admit kar li hai, but also redirected the case to the fast track court!"
Ndhi heaves a sigh of relief. She would have jumped with joy if she were alone. Finally! Thank you God, thank you so very much!
Ashutosh runs to hug Armaan, "Armaan! Thank you so much Armaan! Tu nahi jaanta tune mere liye kya kiya hai aaj! But, when? I mean, mujhe toh maloom bhi nahi tha ke tu is case pe kaam kar raha hai, and I thought we all discussed it and gave it up as a lost cause, phir? Aur tune mujhe bataya bhi .."
"Wait Ashu, can you just stop for a bit, so that I can answer all your questions? (Ashutosh stops and looks at him) Yes we had all given it up, but someone refused to give up. Usne akele hi poori drafting, arguments wagere taiyaar karke mujhe diya tha. I simply presented it in Court."
This stunned him all the more, "Kisne? Please jaldi bata.."
Nidhi tries to shake her head surreptitiously, but Armaan purposely ignores her again, "Your beloved wife. Who else Ashu? Go and give her a tighter hug and of course a kiss too."
But Ashutosh had zoomed out on Armaan and his eyes were on Nidhi. He saw his own happiness mirrored in her eyes. As he neared her, she says, "Lekin Jijaji, maine toh kuch nahi kiya. All credit goes to my mentor."
Ashutosh looks at her stunned, "Lekin Nidhi, maine toh tumhe basics bhi poore nahi sikhaaye abhi tak? Still you worked this wonder? (His eyes radiate pride and his voice trembles a bit as he hugs her) Kamaal kar diya NIdhi! Aur credit bhi mujhe de rahi ho- hadd hai! What did I do? Mujhe toh bhanak bhi nahi thi. I had given up. I still cant believe.. and how did you..?"
"Thats what I am trying to say na? Maine toh sirf apne mentor ka guidance follow kiya ha"
"Nidhi, maine kya kiya hai?"
He feels a surge of jealousy at the way he said that, but then he relaxes, "I see, you consulted Solanki Sir, haina?"
Nidhi shakes her head, goes to BB and touches his feet with genuine respect for the first time ever, "Thank you Baba, for guiding me and holding my hand every step of the way!"
Ashutosh is astonished and somewhat annoyed, "Matlab aap sab ne milke mere peeth peechhe khichdi pakai. Baba, aap bhi? Aap ne bhi mujhe batana zaroori nahi samjha? Aur Armaan tu?"
"Dekh Ashu, mujhe toh Nidhi ne Friday ko hi draft aur saare documents taiyaar kar ke diye. I was completely taken to surprise, then she requested me to present it in Court. Frankly, I was not even the least hopeful. And she requested me not to tell you, unless we get a positive result. Sach bataoon Ashu? She is so thorough in her approach! Ek ek landmark judgement aur uska aisa interpretation uthake daala hai apni drafting me, ke, meri aankhen fati ki fati reh gayi. I tell you buddy, give her sometime, ye toh hum teeno ko kahin peechhe chhod degi."
BB too joins in, "Haan beta, jab ye mere paas apne ideas leke aati thi, I was surprised.. ek baar zaroor padhke dekhna, uska draft. You will understand what I am saying."
Ashutosh looks around, but Nidhi is nowhere to be found. Armaan says, "Chal Ashu, main nikalta hoon."
Nidhi emerges from the kitchen, "Jijaji, lunch toh khaake jaiye. Bas taiyaar hai."
":Arre nahi, Anji must be waiting for me. Woh kuch special banana wali thi. Chalo nikalta hoon."
Nidhi comes to him, "Thanks a lot Jijaji"
"Arre Nidhi, thanks toh mujhe karna chahiye tumhara. I never knew, it was even possible to get our appeal admitted even. Chalo, bye"
Throughout the lunch, Ashutosh was still in a daze, as to how Nidhi achieved the impossible. After lunch, he went to their room on the pretext of getting ready for office. Nidhi is clearing the table, when she hears Ashutoshs voice from the room, "Nidhi, meri tie kahan hai?"
Nidhi looks surprised and murmurs to himself, "Kamaal hai, aaj tie ke baare me kyun poochh rahe hain, apne kapde toh khud hi lete hain."
BB who overhears the murmurs, controls his chuckle and says "Arre beta, jaake dekh lena, shayad use kuch chahiye. Table Hiraman saaf kar lega."
Ji Baba and she goes inside still confused.
BB smiles, "Hamari teerath yaatra safal rahi Hiraman, ab in dono ke beech me sab kuch theek lagta hai"
HK smiles while cleaning the table, "Sach me sahib? Aapko aisa lagta hai?"
BB nods. "Mujhe toh poora yakeen hai. Ab mujhe koi chinta nahi hai zindagi me. Ashu har tarah se settle ho gaya hai, aur us bachchi ne jis tarah se khud ko badla hai, is ek-ded mahine me, Ashu ke liye usse behtar koi ho hi nahi sakti thi, shayad Mallika bhi nahi. Nidhi har mayne me uski jeevan sangini ban gayi hai", he says recollecting how hard she worked on the case. As soon as his son left for office every morning, she would go to the study and dig out every judgement she could find. And how she will come to him a number of times during the day to ask him. If he went out, she would write down the points. How she would argue out her interpretation, breaking down all his counter arguments logically and systematically. It was her childlike faith that worked this miracle, BB thought with pride.
Meanwhile Nidhi enters the bedroom and is engulfed in a pair of strong arms. And before she knows, her lips are possessively captured by his lips, kissing her deeply, passionately, and yet there is a reverence in the kiss. The kiss takes everything she can ever offer, but gives back a piece of his heart, if that is possible. He probes as deep as possible in her mouth with a vigour that seems unstoppable. Finally she is gasping for air and he leaves her. She huffs breathlessly,"what was that for?"
"Just the beginning of thanking my wife for doing such a thing for me. (then he gets serious) Nidhi, us din study me tum yehi kaam kar rahi thi na? (At her nod) Aur maine? Maine tumhe kya kya suna diya, kitna ghinona ilzaam lagaya. Aur main tumhe ignore karta raha, taunt karta raha aur phir bhi tum itni mehnat.."
The rest of his words get swallowed by her fierce kiss. She parts after a while and winks, "Aap hi ne sikhaya hai na ye tareeka muh band karne ka. And, what did we? Rather what did you decide? That we won't talk of the past. Toh phir? she mock glares at him.
He gets serious again, "Lekin, why didn't you share it with me Nidhi. Mujhe bhanak tak nahi lagne di?"
"WE WILL Nidhi! Main apni poori jaan laga doonga. In fact opposite party ka case poora fake documents pe tika hua hai. With you besides me, can I ever lose? (and he pecks her forehead) Nidhi, main tumhe kuch gift dena chahta hoon to thank you.. meri kuch samajh me nahi aa raha hai ke main kya doon.."
"Isme gift ki kya baat hai. Pahle ye case toh khatam ho jaaye.."
"You know, main us pahle waali Nidhi ko miss kar raha hoon. uske liye Solitaires leke aata toh woh khush ho jaati. Lekin ab? Ab toh kuch samajh hi nahi aata hai ke tumhe kya doon?"
"Please Kumpel, agar aap koi gift laaye na, toh mujhe bura lagega. (Looking at his dejected face) Actualy ek idea hai. Ek gift chahiye mujhe. Denge?"
He is delighted, "Bolo na. Anything!"
"Aap raat ko aayenge na, phir dinner karke hum terrace par chalenge, I want to spend a night under a moonlit sky in your arms. I want to make love while staring at the stars"
He is stunned, but then, his eyes smoulder with passion, and he pulls her near, "Ye raat kab hogi?"
She looks at the clock, "Kareeb 8-9 ghante baad!"
He unpins her pallu and drops it to nuzzle her neck and cleavage, saying in a hoarse voice, "Abhi dress rehersal,sorry undress rehearsal ho jaaye?"
She is fast losing herself too and starts teasing him with her hands moving them in a way she knows will affect him, "Ho jaaye.. ah.. lekin.. office me, sab ko.. kya jawab denge?"
This makes him come back to present and he looks at the clock, "Oh my God, 1.15? I have a hearing at 3 and I have yet to go through the file." And he literally rushes out.
Late evening in the office, Armaan says, "Ashu, yaad haina? Aaj sameer jaa raha hai. We were all supposed to go to the airport to drop him. Uska reporting 1 am hai, so we all will meet at his house around midnight or latest by 12:10 am. Theek haina?"
Ashutosh closed his eyes, he had completely forgotten. And he had promised Nidhi something special that night, "Armaan, yaar main nahi aa paaoonga. I will go and meet him after I leave from here. (Armaan though surprised, nods in agreement) Aur Armaan, un dono ki baat kuch aage badi kya. Aaj toh Sameer jaa raha hai, toh they must have arrived at some decision if they both feel for each other.. You know na, main Mallika se directly kuch poochhna nahi chaahta."
"Actually, Ashu, poochhna toh main bhi nahi chaahta yaar. I feel she is matured enough to take her own decision. We can only support her. Lekin agar woh kuch bata nahi rahi hai toh we should not interfere. We both want her to settle, and Sameer is a great guy, especially for her he is perfectly suited. But sab se zyaada important ye hai ke what does she want. And besides, whether she wants to leave india? Or if he is willing to leave US and settle here.. ye saari baaten sochni hain unko."
"You are right Armaan. Lets just hope for the best."
That night post dinner, Ashutosh and Nidhi are in a duvet, on the makeshift bed in a semi-concealed corner on the terrace of their house, their clothes strewn about.
Ashutosh closes her eyes with one palm, and runs something cold over her face with his fingers of the other arm. The thing seems to be melting with her body heat. "Miene Liebe.. uh.. whats that?"
His voice is husky, as he runs it over her lips, "Guess?"
She brings out her tongue to taste it, "umm.. chocolate?"
He drops it in her mouth and lets his palm slide away from her eyes, "its chocolate-coated strawberry. I bought a box on my way home." And he licks the trail of melted chocolate from her face.
He takes out another piece and places it on her cleavage, only to follow it with his lips, sliding it down and making a thin trail of chocolate sauce, "Lets see if this supposedly romantic food item really works?"
The chocolate-dipped strawberries added a novelty, a new excitement to their lovemaking session that night.
Meanwhile, Armaan, Anji, Sameer, his mother and Mallika were outside Sameers house. Armaan says, "Mallika, saaman toh saara meri car me aa gaya hai, can you take him along in your car?"
"Of course! I will just bring my car around." And she goes to get her car.
Sameer bids bye to his mom and gets in beside her. As soon as they are out of the driveway, he says, "Mallika, I couldnt sleep much last night"
She looks up at that, but doesnt say anything, instead waiting for him to continue, which he did, "You know, I was thinking of love, I mean what kind of emotion it is. I mean, I fell in love with Belinda.. we were crazy about each other, could not wait to get married. And within 15 days of marriage, we could not even stand each others presence and another 15 days had us going for a mutual! In restrospect, I realize I was just 22 at that time.. certainly not the age to get married. And I realize now, that Belinda was not the one for me! But at that point, I was head over heals..you know.. At the point, I was in love. But then, if that was not love, what is? How do I even know if I feel again someone, then that feeling would be love?"
"I can understand. Actually, Sameer, even I couldnt sleep last night. (At his questioning glance) I was thinking about second attachments. I mean, do they really work?"
"Actually, I think it varies from individual to individual. And second attachments work better in most cases where a person is over their first attachment."
"And how can a person confirm that?"
She nods, though a bit apprehensively.
"When you see Ashutosh happy in his married life, what do you feel?"
She relaxes and smiles serenely, "Well, obviously I feel happy for him, what else?"
"You dont feel any regrets, any resentments towards him or his wife?
"It was pretty obvious, right from college days. Anyways, thats besides the point. The point Mallika is that you are well and truly over him."
She nods and concentrates on the road. There is silence thereafter. Its not an awkward silence, but a comforting, companionable silence.
He breaks it, "So?"
"Look Mallika, all I can say is my life will be greatly enriched if I can share it with you. I cant say, if I love you or not. Because, love is a very indistinct, indefinable emotion. But it would be an honour to have you in my life."
He chuckles slightly," Well, Mallika, again I ask, what is compromise? Doesnt every person compromise. Even in a love marriage, there is an element of compromise. But yes, since you talked about compromise, I have to clarify just one thing. I can't leave US permanently. Thankfully, my work is such that I can make frequent long trips to India now.. but you know."
"See Mallika, I am not saying that you take a decision now. I am just telling you what I can and can't do. I could take long vacations and stay here two months a year and maybe you can come to US for a month every year, if your work permits you. Of course, it would be best if you could settle in the US. Your career too won't suffer. You just need to clear a bar exam to practice there, which I am sure wouldnt be difficult for you. I am just tell you the facts Mallika. I am not expecting you to leave India or anything like that. Actually, I think you can come to US once again soon, and this time I can show you how exactly we all live there. You know just visiting it as a tourist and actually staying there are 2 completely different things."
"Sameer.. I need time to.."
"Of course, you need time. I dont want you to take a hasty decision either. We will ofcourse keep in touch."
Mallika nods gratefully and continues driving.
One night, 10 days later:
Ashutosh is working on his laptop. Nidhi comes from behind and backhugs him, and gently nibbles his earlobe.
He tries to concentrate on his work, "Nidhi, aaj nahi, please. Ye Banwarilal case ki hearing parson hai, aur poori drafting baaki hai, office me toh time hi nahi milta. Please aaj mujhe kaam karne do."
He turns around to face her and gets up, which makes her withdraw her hand. She gives him her best innocent smile, "Kya hua Kumpel? You better concentrate on your work. Parson case haina?"
He glares at her, "Advocate Nidhi Mathur!"
She comes near and beckons him to lower himself, as if she wants to say something in his ears. When he does, she yanks his t-shirt off with a single swift movement and places her palm on his bare chest right on his heart, "Yes Advocate Mathur?"
She smirks, "Twice" and comes forward to place two wet kisses on his heart, and then draws to look into his eyes with an innocent expression.
He sighs, She sure knows how to drive me nuts. She openly ogles on him, while he continues to glare at her, "But, if you do all this, without my consent, I can sue you for sexual abuse."
She is stunned for a second, but then, comes near so that she is breathing on him, but not touching him, "Oh wow! That would be fun!"
Her breath on his bare chest is driving his to losing his control. He says huskily, "What is funny in that?"
She moves away a bit and stretches her arms sideways leisurely, "Just imagine kitna mazaa aayega na? I am standing in the accused box. You are saying in open court, pointing at me, 'ye jo meri wife haina, ye mujhe sexually abuse karti hai.' And I will stand there, visibly mortified, a picture of innocence. Main kahungi..
"Main kahungi, actually it would be great if the judge is a lady. I will say, 'Your Lordship, isme meri kya galti? Aap khud hi dekhiye inhe. Isn't he hot? And I assure you, ye gusse me toh aur bhi hot lagte hain. And if you see him in his birthday suit, he looks smoking hot. Even you won't be control yourself, Your Lordship. Then, how do I resist, I am his poor wife, 24 ghante inke saath rehti hoon. Is it my fault? If I lose control once in a while?"
She said it all in such a childlike voice. He knew he was a goner, when she talked like that. He resignedly dropped the monitor of his laptop, switches off the main light, and came around behind her, to slip the gown off her, "You know something? You will be the first wife on earth, who sets another woman on her hubby!" He slides off the straps of her nighty, so that her nighty is just holding up precariously on her breasts.
As he bites on her shoulders, and caresses her neck, she mumbles, "thats because, I am sure.."
He pulls off the nighty and turns her around to hug her. Even after all these nights together, that contact of skin against skin does not fail to affect her. He whispers into her ears, "What are you sure of?"
He licks her weak spots before coming up and licking her earlobe, "Don't be too sure! The lady judge may be hot too!"
An offended Nidhi pushes him away, "Hotter than me?"
He shrugs casually, "May be!"
She switches on the light, "Now, tell me!"
He is speechless, as its the first time he is seeing her in full light. He comes near with slow measured steps.
She backs away and turns still annoyed. He lifts her in her arms and takes her to bed. She pouts, "What are you doing?"
"Showing you how hot you are!" and he kisses her all over, driving her senseless before claiming her lips.
Two hours later, they are both lying in each others arms, with eyes closed. Suddenly, he bolts awake, "Arre I have to get up now. Bahut kaam hai. And he makes a move to get up."
She holds his arm, "Rukiye toh.."
"Ab kya hai? You are too high on hormones, you know that?"
She takes her laptop from the bedside table, "pahle ye toh dekhiye." And opens a file.
"Nidhi.. please abhi time na.. (he is surprised at the content of the file) Oh my Goodness, tumne drafting karli?"
"Well, I tried, but you can just edit it. I thought it would lessen your work, make it easier for you, you know.."
By the time, he is done reading and editing a line here or there, he is amazed. It is just perfect. He looks at her, "Nidhi, tumhe itni achchhi drafting kaise aati hai? I want you to prepare the arguments too."
"Baba se poochh poochh ke likha hai. So, I will try to write the arguments too, under his guidance."
He is quiet for a while then says, "Nidhi, I am not going to argue this case in court?"
"Because I want someone else to argue this case."
"Armaan Jijaji? (he shakes his head) Mallikaji? (Again a shake of head) toh phir Baba?"
"No, YOU. I want you to argue."
She is flabbergasted, "MAIN?"
"Why not? You have been practically eating and drinking this case for more than a month now! Who better than you to present it in court."
She wets her lips nervously, "But Kumpel, main.. kaise.. I don't even know the basics. I have never even seen the insides of a courtroom yet"
"I know.. entirely my fault. I should have taken you along to my hearings. Theek hai, koi baat nahi, kal afternoon me ek hearing hai high court me hi. You be ready, I will pick you up. You will get to know the protocol that way."
"Lekin, Miene Liebe, why are you taking such a risk? On a case thats so close to my heart?"
"Yes sweetheart, its a case very close to my heart. So, I am trusting YOU with this case."
"Just because I am your wife? Please.."
His reply is empathetic, "NO. Because you are Baba's student."
He closes in and puts the laptop on the table beside her side of the bed, "Lekin wekin kuch nahi. Now, that its decided, lets get back to work." And he goes inside the duvet.
She pushes him away, "Now, who is high on hormones?"
"It's not about harmones. It's about being smart."
She looks at him as if he has gone nuts, "W.. wwhat?"
He runs his thumb on her lips and pushes a strand of her hair behind her ear, "See, as it is, I am going to sue you for abuse, so this night is on you. Isiliye, I think, let me as well make the most out of this night!"
She huffs out, "Okay sonce the night is on me, get ready for the ride of your life. I am going to show you what abuse is all about!"
"Ever ready for it my dearie!"
She sits on the advocates bench, while Ashutosh argues the case. This is the first time she is seeing him in the advocates gown and neck-band. But that's not the only thing that awes her! When he starts presenting his case, it's a revelation for her. The reticent, softspoken man has donned the persona of a ferocious lion! He is totally in charge of the situation and leads his arguments in a way no one including the judge moves a finger, lest they miss an important word. Nidhi is mesmerized but when the argument ends and Ashutosh takes his seat next to her, she breaks into a sweat.
He whispers, "Kya hua?"
"Kumpel, how am I supposed to match your prowess in argument tomorrow?"
"Nidhi, we are not competing against each other.."
"Please, I will handle some other case na? Ye case aap ladiye, please please."
"Nothing doing. Trust me you will do fine."
"What if I lose?"
"Aisa ho hi nahi sakta!"
"Aap rahenge na mere saath?"
He nods solemnly, "I promise, lekin aisa hoga nahi"
That evening when he arrives home, she is busy preparing the arguments. As soon as he enters the bedroom, she straight away calls him to the desk, "Ye dekhiye. Ye point kaise frame karoon?"
He reads the point, and looks at her suggestively, "kiss"
She whimpers, "Please kumpel, I need to concentrate here."
"I said, kiss.. K I S S"
Wearily, she goes forward to kiss him.
He backs away, "What you doing?"
"You wanted it na?"
"What did I say? I was just answering your query."
"Oh I see, you took it that way, sach me Nidhi, you are too hor.. you know."
She angrily crosses her arms, "Hmmph"
"Arre tum bhi na! I said KISS. K I S S " Keep It Simple Silly!" and he laughs at her expression.
She is still annoyed. He kisses her, "Sorry, couldnt resist teasing you. Chalo, get to work, I will just cange and join you. A lot need to be done. Our case needs to be iron-clad!"
She nods and gets back to work. And he joins her shortly. They were totally engrossed in their work when HK calls them to dinner. At the dining table too, they continue their discussion with BB joining them.
Even after dinner, they work till 11, with him making her rehearse the arguments and ensuring she gets it all right. Finally, satisfied, he shuts down the laptop, and picks her up to lay her in bed. Switching off the lights, he joins her and she eagerly comes into his arms. He kisses her forehead, "So jao Nidhi, tomorrow is an important day. You need your sleep tonight."
Though a bit disappointed, she agrees and settles on his shoulder, while he covers them both with the duvet.
The next morning when she gets up, she sees its already 8.30 am. She gets up and rushes to the restroom only to see him emerging out of it in his bathrobe. He pecks her cheek, "Good morning. Ready for the big day?"
"I wish I knew, lekin aap ne mujhe jagaya kyun nahi. You have already taken your bath.."
Her features again tense up.
She comes out and sees him waiting with her coffee, "why did you? Main bana leti na?"
He leads her to the couch, "Baitho, you need to rehearse your argument again."
She rubs the sleep out of her eyes and nods. He brings the laptop and makes her go through the arguments thoroughly. Finally satisfied that she is prepared, he again pushes her towards the restroom, "Go take your bath, then we will have breakfast and leave."
"Let me at least take my clothes."
"Leave it to me. (he hands her a bathrobe) Ye lo, just wear this and come out."
When she comes out, she is surprised to see a new, crisp white formal shirt and a a black knee-length formal skirt lying on the bed. He smiles at her, "chalo, get dressed and come to the table."
"Lekin.. ye kya hai, I will wear that white saaree with the beads na?"
"No, today you cant wear a saaree. You need to concentrate. Saaree sambhaalti rahogi toh dhyaan kaise dogi? You need to comfortable."
"But, ye skirt kuch zyaada hi short nahi hai? Please mujhe saaree hi pahnne dijiye na."
"Saaree is not an option today. Haan ek option hai."
He takes out a polythene bag from the closet and gives her. She opens to find a black trousers.
"I told Anji to get a skirt and trousers both. So that you can choose."
"Lekin iski kya zaroorat thi? Mere paas kitne saare kapde hain.."
"Nidhi, abhi jaldi karo, in fuzul baaton ka time nahi hai."
She nods and wears the shirt and trouser alongwith the coat. They have breakfast and then, she took BB and HKs blessings. While BB blesses her with victory, HK is surprised by her gesture and says that he will pray for her success.
After parking the car, Ashutosh takes Nidhi to the small office which the firm has hired in the Court premises. He opens one of the three small closets and takes out two advocates gowns and neck-bands. First he makes her wear the brand new gown he bought for her the previous day and then puts the neck-band on her. She looks visibly tense. He wears his own gown and neck-band, "Relax Nidhi, main hoon na tumhaare saath."
Just then Armaan and Mallika call her to give their best wishes. They were just about to leave the office when he pulls her into a tender comforting hug. "Sweetheart, maine kya bola? You can't let Jagan see that you are tense. You need to show that you are completely in charge of the case. Remember what I told you about confidence. If you are confident, half the case is won.
She takes a few deep breathes, "Chaliye lets go. With you beside me, can I ever lose?" she repeats some of his own words.
He kisses her forehead, "Thats like the Nidhi I always knew, admired and loved." They moved to the courtroom.
He sits besides her and just as she is about to get up to start her arguments, he squeezes her hand beneath the table, "All the best. And be calm and composed."
She nods, looks at him with respect and then gets up to face the judge. Though she begins shakily, she moves quite smoothly. When she falters, he beckons to her and hurriedly whispers some instructions in her ear. With his guidance and constant assurance with his eyes, she manages to put forth her arguments logically and brilliantly.
Finally the judge gives the judgement in their favor. She turns around to face him, but he is nowhere to be seen. She gets out of the courtroom and switches on her phone to call him. But she sees a message instead from him, "Leave your gown and neck-band in the office and rush over to the international airport. No questions. The duplicate key to my office in your gown pocket"
She is totally confused and tried calling him. He doesnt pick up, but she gets another message, "Just follow my instructions."
Seeing no option she does what the instructions tell her, wondering what the emergency is. As soon as her cab stops at the airport, he reaches there and pays off the cab and literally pulls her to the security post. She tries to ask him, "What happened? Hum kahan jaa rahe hain? Koi emergency hai?"
"Pahle check in kar len, phir batata hoon. We are already late."
"I have everything, tum bas chup chaap chalo."
They check in and then sit in the lounge. He says, "Nidhi, today you made me a proud senior and a prouder husband." And he purses his lips and blows a kiss in the air.
She looks around consciously but is relieved on realizing that no one has seen it, "The credit goes to you and Baba. Lekin abhi hum kahan jaa rahe hain?"
"Honeymoon in Switzerland."
She looks at him, surprised, delighted and completely awed.
The boarding is announced and they board the flight hand in hand.
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