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Thursday, 17 November 2011

Strings Detached….

Her lips quivered to tell him the truth, but she was too overwhelmed with emotion to speak anything. ‘Everything will be fine now. We will be together always’, Shayan was whispering to Simi, as he cradled her in his arms.

Simi was jolted out of her dream as a thunder struck outside. She woke up perspiring in the rainy December night. For a while she was too dumbstruck to understand what was happening. She slowly wiped her forehead and took deep breaths to regain her senses. She was sitting on her bed, in her room and she had had a dream. She peered at the other side of the bed to see Joy sound asleep. She was thankful for Joy’s deep sleeping habits as opposed to her light sleeping ones. Since their marriage, she had always been the one getting up earlier or in the middle of the night due to some small noise or sound to find Joy sleeping peacefully.

But that was something else, her mind was disturbed by the dream she just had. Or was it a nightmare? No …certainly not a nightmare! She could not dare to think that whatever she had ever felt for Shayan was a nightmare. Shayan, the name stirred all those hidden memories in her. She was puzzled why after so many years, she was suddenly dreaming of him. They were not even in touch….neither was she unhappy in her marriage and missing him….then what was it? What was it that had not broken off still…sitting there she could still relive the incident on her wedding day. 

Simi was looking exquisitely beautiful. More than her face she had intelligent eyes that did half her talking. In the bridal attire her eyes were to die for. As she sat in the marriage hall waiting for her groom to come, she heard her phone ringing inside her purse. It was Shayan. He must be calling for the direction to reach the wedding hall, thought Simi. He was always early for everything, be it a class or an interview or a date. He hated being late.
‘Hello…Oh my God…. You look too good!’ exclaimed Shayan over the phone. Simi laughed at his easy self. After that day at his flat, there was a weird silence between them. She was happy to find Shayan in his normal self. ‘As if you can see me through the phone…’ retorted Simi. ‘I don’t need to…I know that you’re looking stunning…..I just called to tell you something…..that I…’ he searched for words.

‘That you are sorry to let me go and not propose marriage to me when you should have…isn’t it?’ teased Simi with a mischievous giggle. 

‘How did you…. Yes you are right. I love you a lot and I don’t know what I was thinking. I should have proposed to you that day at my flat when you told me that your marriage was fixed…..’ Shayan’s voice was suddenly serious and almost pleading. The smile on Simi’s face vanished and her joyful expression was replaced by that of panic. 

‘It’s not too late…. I can arrange everything…You call off the marriage….or maybe we could elope and get married….what do say?’ carried on Shayan.

Simi was suddenly furious, ‘How dare you say all that to me…you are still not ready…and you never will be. You really think all this is a game….right? Either call off the marriage or run away….how could you suggest such a thing… could I ever fall in love with someone like you…?’ no matter how much angry she was, Simi had confessed her feelings for him.

‘So you do love me…. Then why are you getting married to this guy?’ pleaded Shayan. ‘Just leave me alone Shayan….just leave me alone….before I lose my temper and….. After so many days and months you suddenly call me on my wedding day and expect me to leave my marriage and family and go away with you. Who do you think you are?’ ‘But I….’ Shayan tried to say something, Simi closed her eyes to let the tears sting her face. She had to do something quickly before any further scene was created.
‘Please do come and have dinner at my wedding!’ added Simi with a strict tone, trying hard to control her tears.

Shayan was too shocked at her sudden change of expression. He wanted to say something to her when he heard voices of relatives filling the room. ‘Silly girl….why are you crying on your marriage day…you are ruining your mascara….Renu…can you please fix her eye make-up? Look at her…such a pretty bride with mascara all over her face!’ exclaimed some female relative. And then there were other voices, which almost engulfed her amidst them. Shayan could only hear the phone click when she disconnected the call.  She had pushed him out of her life.

That was five years ago, now Simi was too happy in her marriage. She could not have asked for more. Then why suddenly did she dream of him. She took out her diary from its hiding place under the mattress and went back to the initial entries. There, on the top of one of the blank pages she found Shayan’s number. She thought of calling him, but why…suddenly after so many years….they would not have anything to tell each other. After that day, they had not talked to each other even once. She didn’t know whether he was married and most importantly, whether that number still existed!

The night passed slowly and unable to sleep or unable to try to sleep, Simi finally caught up on slumber just minutes before the alarm clock struck. She grabbed it and got out of bed. She mechanically did her routine work of the morning and got ready for office. ‘Is everything alright?’ inquired Joy, finding her unusually quite throughout the morning. ‘Yes of course…just worried about a presentation I have in office…’ covered up Simi. 

They left in opposite directions for their offices. When alone the first thing Simi did was to dial the number she had written on her palm. Before the ring, she cut the call, then again and…..again. The last time she left a missed call. ‘Damn!’ she muttered feeling like a schoolgirl in love giving missed call to strangers. Strangers….? Was that what they were….? Then what was that they had shared that afternoon in his flat….?? They had been so close to each other, that time seemed to have stopped and everything else had lost its meaning. But then she had moved away…not letting them commit what they had started to….. Was it that unfinished story between them that tied them together? What if…the story had ended as they had wanted it to…??

There were too many questions. She had to meet him once…. maybe, to talk about what happened…. maybe to move on from him and with her life. But had she not moved on? She was married and settled but there was something that still tied her to him. Otherwise why would she dream of him? In the initial days of her marriage, she did think of him often but then she got busy with work and life and he went out of her mind. What was it now that she wanted to know….? Certainly she was not looking for a fling with her ex-flame….Joy was more than what life could give her. Then what was it…that was tying her to Shayan. An apology maybe….or at least to talk about things to make them straight….to depart with a sweet ending than a sour thought. But was it at all possible….??
Her phone’s loud ringtone brought her back to the present. 

Shayan’s number flashed on her phone display. She hesitated but picked up.

‘Hello….I got a call from this number. May I know who is calling?’ inquired Shayan in a business like tone.

‘Hello….I’ was all Simi could start with.

‘Simi…is that you?’ chirped in Shayan’s enthusiastic voice.

‘Yes… how are you? It’s been so many years….I just thought….’ She replied.

‘Oh my God…I’m so excited to talk to you. Where are you? I’m in Delhi… seems from your number that even you are nearby…..My God…there’s so much to talk about…why don’t we meet? Today at lunch….are you free?’ asked Shayan excitedly.

Simi was taken aback at his casual behavior. What had happened? Had they time-travelled? It seemed as if that day of her marriage had not happened at all. Shayan sounded like the good old times. Puzzled, she heard herself say: ‘Yes I’m in Delhi itself and…hmmm…. I’m free… I think we can meet!’

‘Great! See you at lunch then. I will text u the details of the restaurant’ saying so Shayan ended the call.

She instantly regretted her decision to meet him. She toyed with the idea of calling it off till the time when she could no longer cancel it. She reached the restaurant, the address of which Shayan had texted her an hour back, informing her that he had made a reservation for two. Walking in hesitantly, Simi saw Shayan waiting at the table. Always before time, thought she and smiled. Shayan was dressed in smart formals, which spoke of the rising curve of his career. He had also put on a little weight that added a streak of maturity to his personality. Watching him sit there waiting for her, all her inhibitions were gone. She felt relaxed, approached the table and took her seat opposite him.

‘So…how has life been?’ asked Simi. ‘Life had never been the same…since you left me with a broken heart…’ retorted Shayan with a glint of mischief in his eyes. With that they both started laughing. ‘Oh really….I know I have that effect on guys….but in your case I should be given all the credit for your successful career. I broke your heart and you worked hard to succeed in your career.’ she quipped. ‘Oh yes…absolutely…’ added Shayan. The mood was lightened and they started talking about good old days.

‘I am sorry about that day…Shayan. I hope you understand that we were too young then to have taken a more mature decision’ added Simi finally. ‘Apology accepted. But I’m to blame too…. I guess I was too full of Hindi films to think that you will run away with me…. and I’m sorry too. You know after your marriage I did have thoughts of calling you so many times but…. somehow….I restrained myself. Today your call made things a lot easier for me.’

‘I did love you then…but…. There was no childishness or immaturity in that’ Simi blurted out and lowered her eyes. It was too candid a confession but she needed to get it out of her system. ‘I know…..even my feelings were very true…believe me. I know that we were honest then and….now….you and me…we are no longer the same…. Even if I try I cannot fall in love with you again. I fell in love with a pretty girl named Simi years ago……But years of pondering has made me realize that no matter how hard you try you can never go back to a phase in life which you have already passed. It doesn’t happen somehow. We have changed…everything else has changed….. don’t you think so?’

‘Oh my God…. I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear you say that. Yes exactly…that is what even I wanted to say. I don’t want to have hard feelings for you…I think we should put the past behind us’ added Simi. She felt a burden go down her shoulders, she could breathe more easily. They smiled at each other.

‘Oh….it’s almost half an hour past my usual lunch time…. I should be leaving now’…declared Simi looking at her watch.

‘Oh yes…me too. And yes…did I tell you that you have become prettier than before. Had I met you now I would have never let you go!’ winked Shayan. ‘I think…what we finally have now is a relationship with strings detached!’ stated Shayan. ‘I guess so…’ chirped in Simi.

They enjoyed a hearty laugh, shared the bill, tipped the waiter generously and left the restaurant. They hugged each other and waved goodbyes to carry on with their separate ways. 

Simi felt light and happy almost ecstatic with herself. Smiling happily, she called Joy to ask:

‘Will you be able to come home a little early today? I will prepare something special for dinner and…you….’ 

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Marriages are made in Heaven

Ritu could hear her mother wail from the next room. ‘I don’t know what I have done wrong? Why is God doing this to my daughter?!!’ wailed her mother and the sobs continued. But strangely enough, unlike the other times of facing refusal from a prospective groom’s family, Ritu was not feeling sad at all. All she had was a little pool of happy feeling at the pit of her stomach. The happiness was slowly spreading all over to engulf her whole being. Her mother entered the room in a tear-stained avatar to console her. To say the least she was surprised to see the happiness on Ritu’s face. She was sure that grief had affected her weirdly. ‘Beta, it’s all right! You put on the face pack and then take a bath. There will be better news coming our ways soon’, consoled her mother. ‘I know’ was all Ritu said.

She was suddenly feeling liberated. She was not sad at all. For five long years Ritu had held her breath to find that perfect guy in the marriage market. She had met hundreds of men, boys and even uncles, who were all ready to marry her. Luckily or unluckily, something went wrong each time and the marriage did not take place finally. Today was also such a day, when Ajay’s family had called in the morning to inform her mother that they were not ready to proceed with the marriage.

Ajay Ahuja was not the most sought after bachelor in town. But he had a simplicity about him that made Ritu notice him. She had met Ajay a month back, through some common relatives. He was an average guy with a well secured job, plans for the future and a confidence about him. Ritu had thought that there might be a chance of a little something happening between them. He looked like an average Punjabi guy, but had intelligent eyes, that seemed to be full of honesty to Ritu. Since their meeting, she had prayed at least a thousand times to God to make this proposal work out. She had always been extra sweet with his parents whenever they had met. Last week they had come to see her and had told that they would finalize their decision and let them know over phone. And there stands the decision: Rejected yet again.

For the first time in her life, Ritu accepted her life as it was. She did not cry or blame herself. She realized that she could not keep hurting the person she loved the most. That person was she herself. She was suddenly happy to be living with her parents and living the kind of life she was. All of a sudden, she realized that she was waiting with bated breath, for her certain life to change into an uncertain one. She had no clue what marriage had in store for her. There was no guarantee that all will be well after marriage. Running after the mirage of marriage she was losing on her real life.

Last time she checked she was 24 and today she would turn 29 next month. She sat before the mirror and looked at her image. Age was not evident on her face but there was a sadness, a shadow of defeat at having left behind in the race of marriage. All her plans were at stake, she could not change her job let alone move to another city because she could get married any minute. She could not go on a vacation because it was not decent for single girls of her age to roam about alone, especially when her marriage could be fixed any day. Her mother selected the weddings she attended and the parties too, in the hope of finding that perfect guy. On such occasions, Ritu was not allowed to be herself, she had to be dressed as a would-be-daughter-in-law and behave very properly.

'Oh…!' exclaimed Ritu aloud, exasperated with her own thoughts. Too many things were clouding her thought process. First things first; she first needed a vacation or a something to break the monotony of her routine life. Once back from it, she would apply for a better job and in the criteria for location she will not specify any specific place. She was open to relocation. Ritu felt a burden go down her shoulders. She was happy to meet her real self: the carefree, happy girl, who was somehow getting lost in the marriage market. She felt a new confidence surround her as she got ready for office. Everything was perfect. She prayed to God before leaving the house. In her prayers, she couldn’t thank God enough for what he had given her.

An idea struck her and she dashed into her parents’ room to announce: ‘We will go to a movie today, Papa. I will get the tickets. Both of you should be ready when I get back’. Her mother was a little surprised seeing Ritu so happy. However, she also felt relieved to see happiness in her face after so many years. She was tempted to ask what had happened suddenly, but she restrained herself replying, ‘That will be really nice…. Of course… we will be ready’. ‘Beta…. Don’t waste so much money. Why don’t you go with your friends? You won’t enjoy with old people like us’ added her father affectionately. ‘No Papa, I want to go with you two please!’ insisted Ritu. Her father saw the genuine request in her eyes and nodded consent. Satisfied she left for office.

Reaching office, she first uncluttered her desk, which was full of stick-on notes, loose sheets of paper, files, pens and what not. She had kept the desk that way thinking that she would be married soon and move to another place and perhaps another office, thus postponing the cleaning of her desk. While in the act of sorting out things, Ritu smiled at herself thinking how foolish she had been. She had practically stopped living, waiting for each day to pass so that the next day would bring some better proposal for her. She looked around and noticed, maybe for the first time, that there were quite a few new faces in office. ‘Am I blind?’ she thought aloud. She had missed so much on her life already. She felt as if she had got back from an emotional coma and waited eagerly to soak in the surroundings as much as she could. Before she could feel, the day’s work wrapped up and it was time to go home. She quickly logged in to get the movie tickets from the theater’s website. Being a weekday there was hardly any rush. She booked the tickets and headed home.

She took a cab instead of waiting for the bus and gave directions to the driver to reach her home. Sitting there, she thought how long had it been when she had last broken her routine. She smiled as the wind lashed at her face and hair, blowing it into a mess. Reaching, she rushed through the stairs and stood outside their flat, ringing the bell impatiently many times. The door clicked open, ‘Mamma, how long do you take….’ she stopped mid-sentence to see Ajay’s parents sitting in their living room sofa. Her mother’s expression was grim; she nudged Ritu at the elbow, indicating her to greet them. ‘Namaste!’ was all she could manage looking at their direction.

Ajay’s mother started saying: ‘I was telling your mother, how nice a girl Ritu is….. It was just a little misunderstanding that made us call in the morning. Actually we realized that Pammy’s family was not as cultured and good like yours. We decided to marry Ajay here itself. Ajay is also liking this house.’ Cultured and good meant wealthy, that means they must have increased their demands on her parents. She looked up to see her father sitting sheepishly beside her mother. Even Ajay was the same, thought Ritu. When they had first met, she thought that Ajay had a personality of his own but even he could not take a strong decision.

She glanced at her watch and saw that time was running out, the show was in half an hour’s time. ‘Actually Aunty, we had a plan for the movie today. Maybe we could talk about this tomorrow. The show will start in half an hour’s time. If you don’t mind, I want to be there with my parents’ Ajay’s mother was scandalized at the request. She was too surprised to say anything. Ritu’s mother started to say something but her father squeezed her hand indicating her to stay silent. ‘Oh…ho…We had completely forgotten about that movie. In the morning itself, Ritu had requested us to go with her’ added her father with a confident smile. Ajay’s parents shot up to their feet, seeing no imminent invitation of prolonging their stay, they shuffled towards the door, forced a smile on their faces and started to leave. ‘Please do come again!’ added Ritu with a genuine smile. Ajay’s mother forced a smile and left.

Ritu’s mother was surprised at the sudden change in her daughter and before she could say anything Ritu pulled her by the hand saying: ‘Come on, you two…. I will never forgive you if I miss the first scene of the movie.’ Laughing, the trio left to rush to the movie hall. 
Movie, popcorn and dinner at a restaurant sealed the day with a happy ending note. Even her mother was not complaining and not even for once did she bring up the Ajay episode. 

Content with the day, Ritu enjoyed a good night’s sleep and was awake early the next morning to prepare for office. The phone was ringing in the hall. Ritu had no mood of picking it up; she lazed around the balcony with her cup of tea.‘Ritu…. Get the phone. It’s for you’ shouted her mother from the adjacent room.

‘For me??…Who wants to talk to me now…?’ muttered Ritu under her breath picking up the receiver. 
‘Hello? Ritu?’ asked the heavy, manly voice. 
‘Yes…’ answered Ritu curiously. 
‘This is Ajay here. Can I talk to you regarding something…?’ A bit flustered and a little blushing she replied back: ‘Yeah…sure…!’