“Nithin, I’ve to go. She is my best friend. She came here and personally invited me.”
“Well, make some excuse.” He came near her, looked into her eyes and continued, “In a month’s time we are getting married. Don’t you want a perfect wedding, dear? We still have not decided our wedding dress, and there are a lot of other arrangements to look into.”
“Nithin, please, I want to go. Its just a matter of 2 days. Why don’t you understand? I’ve talked to my mother and your parents as well. They have all agreed. Its just you….” Shikha pleaded, but they fell on deaf ears. Nithin was losing his temper.
“Enough Shikha!” he shouted, “for the past one week you have been whining about your friend Anjali and her marriage. I know the real reason. Do whatever you feel like”. Nithin stormed out of the room as Shikha looked at him, biting her tongue, for she too was now close to shouting back at him. It is my best friend’s wedding; and I’ll definitely attend it, decided Shikha.
It was still dawn when I stepped out of the cab and walked towards the entry gate of the Delhi airport. The early morning February air was pleasantly cold. I was travelling to Bengaluru to attend a college friend’s wedding. It had been four years since we graduated from the same college. This wedding was also going to be a reunion of our batch mates
. But what I didn’t know was that the reunion would begin much ahead of time; right in the queue in front of the airline counter. I was almost sure it was she. Same height! Same long hair! Same complexion!
Curiosity had my eyes glued to her. And then about 60-odd seconds later, when she turned, she proved me right. My ex-girlfriend stood two places ahead of me in that queue. We had never met after the college farewell or rather; she didn’t want to meet me. My heart raced and I could feel butterflies in my stomach. This was exactly how I felt when I first proposed to her.
When I decided to attend Anjali’s marriage, I was almost sure that I’d meet her, I had practised a lot on how to face her, talk to her, but never did I think that a glimpse of her will have this heady effect on me. God! I still love her. I may be her ex-boyfriend, but she is very much my one and only girlfriend.
Soon, all the passengers had boarded the flight. Mine was a window seat and hers was the aisle seat on the opposite side. I was soon able to acquire the aisle seat on my side, all thanks to the petulant pre-schooler and her exhausted mother, who was extremely grateful for my seat-switch-offer. As I sat on my hard-earned seat, I stole a glance at Shikha, but she seemed to be too absorbed in her mobile, typing away, probably WA. An air-hostess soon came to my aid and gently reminded Shikha to switch-off her mobile. It was then that she looked around and saw me. She probably hadn’t expected to see me, for her face showed surprise and genuine delight as she whispered my name.
Thrilled as I was on hearing ‘Vinu’, I willed myself to reply nonchalantly,
“Hi Shikha! How are you?”
She quickly averted her eyes from mine and all the happiness that I had seen on her face a moment ago vanished, as she reined in her emotions and tried to project a calm façade.
But her voice faltered when she said,“I’m ok Vinod. How about you?
After exchanging a few more pleasantries, an awkward silence hung between us.
Shikha was not yet ready to talk to Vinod, though there was a lot to say. The guilt had been eating her away all these years. Yet she could not muster enough courage to tell him everything, to apologise. So she took a novel from her tote, and tried to read it, but all she saw was Vinod’s face, and the wonderful days they had spent together at college. The tall, lean guy, who had stolen her heart through his incessant jokes and false bravado. They had vowed to be together, support each other, but she had ended it all, one fine morning. And worse still, she had not even shown the courtesy to explain to Vinu. But she had been helpless; explaining would have only hurt him more.
Seeing Shikha immerse herself in a novel, I too withdrew into my world of memories. After college, I tried to keep in touch with her, but she refused to attend/reply to my calls, and messages. For some time, I tried to keep track of her through our friend’s circle. But she was adamant to get rid of me from her life – she changed her sim, closed her Facebook and Twitter accounts, moved out of the city. Both of us were startled when we heard the announcement of the flight landing. We had reached Bengaluru. I’d soon see all my friends, a great reunion. Will it also reunite me with my beloved? I was not sure, but I fervently hoped so.
Having picked up the baggage, we went in search of a taxi. Anjali had booked rooms in a prominent hotel for all of us. As I went ahead to book for a pre-paid taxi, Shikha once more became busy with her mobile phone.
“Come… Lets go out and wait for our turn”, I told her.
We silently walked out.
“So, how come you are in Delhi, Vinu?”
“Working here. IT. For the past 2 years”
“How about you?”
“Yes. Working, and…” she was interrupted by her phone ringing, just as our taxi came along. We got in.
“Yes, Nithin, I’ve reached. No problems. Going to the hotel. Yes, by taxi”
My ears cocked up on hearing the name Nithin. A thousand questions hung between us unanswered, but this new character puzzled me more.
“I owe you an apology and an explanation, I know, Vinu, but please believe me, it was not deliberate. I thought I’d call you up at the earliest, but that never happened, before I knew I was into the trap”, she implored, tears flowing, staining her beautiful face.
“I never asked you anything, Shikha. In fact, I have been trying to forget you, but I have not once blamed you for anything. I know that there must have been some reason for you to have left me without a word. But why avoid me all these years?”
Shikha looked pained, and I realised that she too had been suffering all these years. She wanted to say more, but by then we had reached the hotel. We collected out room keys, and went straight to the restaurant, where our friends were partying. We too joined, and then set-off to Anjali’s house. No one asked us anything, but I had seen a few brows rise when we arrived together and knew that our gang-trial (where our friends’ circle questioned and sought solutions if any of us faced a problem) will definitely be there. Soon, my close buddy, George, came up to me and asked, “Hey, what’s going on between you and Shikha? Are you two together now, I mean, you know…?”
“No, nothing like that”, I shrugged, “we were on the same flight.” But the others in our old gang closed in on us to question us about our relationship. I repeated my replies and Shikha just remained silent. But neither of us was able to convince them, and many of them shouted at Shikha for having scuttled off without saying a word to any of us. The words spoken to her were too harsh and I couldn’t bear it.
“Enough, guys, Shikha has told me everything. But she can’t go around telling everyone now, can she? Please let her be. I have forgiven her, and we are just good friends now. Please, now let us all enjoy the marriage”.
I walked off, and so did my friends, most of them still quite annoyed and grumbling that I had, yet again, come to her rescue. That evening, I tried to keep away from Shikha as much as possible, but as fate would have it we kept bumping into each other. After the sumptuous dinner, by the time we returned to the hotel it was past 12 o’clock. As we went inside, once again Shikha’s phone rang. I was walking by her side. I could hear someone at the other end shouting at her, and her eyes started welling up with tears. The one thing I can never ever tolerate is Shikha crying. I grabbed the phone from her hands.
“No, Vinu, no…” Shikha kept saying, but I paid no heed, and shouted into the phone.
“O God! Now, what will happen?”
She looked terrified, like a small child. “Relax…relax…nothing will happen..”
I led her to the nearest sofa, got her a glass of water to drink and cradled her head on my neck. It was like old days, when I used to help her out, console her whenever she had a problem.
In between her sobs she told me that it was Nithin, her fiancée, who had called her. She had agreed to the marriage due to her father’s financial obligations to his family.
“Ssshhh….”, I placed a finger on her lips, “Shikha, I understand. You don’t have to explain to me anything. Let us go for a walk”
I took her hand in mine, and she quietly accompanied me. We strolled through the gardens of the hotel for some time. Our minds did all the talking, and we remained mum. We sat on the bench, and looked up into the sky. Shikha loves to look at the moon, but now, when we looked up, we couldn’t see the white orb. The moon always helps her to calm down. She used to tell me that her problems seem to melt away when she looks at the moon. From her, I too had got the habit of moon gazing, whenever I was tensed or unable to make a decision. Just then a few black clouds parted to reveal the bright and lovely full moon. Both of us shouted with joy, and then looked at each other, laughing. The years that had separated us, faded away like those black clouds, and in that moment, we realised that nothing had changed between us.
Shikha hugged me, and whispered, “Will you ever forgive me, Vinu ?”
“Shikha, I forgave you, the moment I saw you at the airport today morning.”
I didn’t have a ring or a rose, but I managed to grab some yellow flower from the hotel garden, kneeled and asked “Shikha, you are my one and only true love. Will you marry me?”
With tears streaming down her eyes, she nodded her head, “Yes, Vinu, yes. I will”. And so we sat there for some more time, lost in each other, our hearts brimming with joy and love.
The next day morning we woke up early, to attend the marriage. Both of us looked bright and happy and content with each other as we went to the hall hand in hand. Our friends, more or less, guessed that we were back together, but they did not pester us with questions.
We walked or rather breezed through the hall, smiling , laughing, looking at each other, holding hands, but hardly talking. We were enjoying each other’s company, and it seemed, as though making up for the lost years. The Nadaswaram, and Tavil had started playing the traditional Muhurtam music indicating that the auspicious time for the tying of mangalsutra had commenced. We all gathered near the arena, where the bride and the groom sat, to watch and capture the most important moments of the wedding, on to our cell phones. With Fire God as their witness, Anjali and Raj had now become man and wife and promised to abide by their marriage vows.
Suddenly, Shikha pulled me to the arena, and went up to the pandit who was conducting the ceremony, and said, “Swami, we too would like to get married.”
“After this function, bring me both of your jatakams , and I’ll tell you an auspicious date”, he replied.
I was surprised by her request, but also happy. But she shocked me when she insisted, “No, no swami. We want to get married now, here, along with Anjali and Raj.”
He looked at her, as though she had gone mad, and then at me. I tried to pull her back, but she quavered with a heartbroken countenance ,“Please, swami, please. Otherwise we both will have to suicide.”
So saying, she pulled me down as she knelt in front of him and asked for his blessings. The guests were watching this ‘straight-from-Bollywood’ scene with great curiosity, and a few of them even thought that this was one of those candid camera shows.
Shikha grabbed two flower garlands, handed one to me and instructed the priest to chant the mantras. The poor man was as wonderstruck as I was, but started mumbling the mantras. We soon exchanged garlands, and someone thrust a yellow thread – the mangalsutra – into my hands. Our entire gang had gathered and were now enthusiastically participating in what was, a few minutes back, Anjali’s wedding , and had now suddenly turned out to be mine as well.
I was still dazed at the sudden turn of events, but Shikha seemed to been joying the whole thing. Amidst the cheers and well-wishes of all our friends, I tied the knot, and applied vermilion on her forehead, and sat down to repeat the marital vows.
With great difficulty I dragged Shikha to a corner.
“What is all this, Shikha?”
“Aren’t you happy ? We just got married Vinu. I’m ecstatic!” bubbled, a dreamy-eyed Shikha.
“But, all of a sudden, like this, how…”
“Shikha, congratulations”, snapped a handsome man wearing an off-white sherwani standing in front of us. We had not noticed him approaching us.
I looked at Shikha, saw fear cloud her eyes as she uttered, “Nithin…”. She couldn’t say another word, and I reckoned that this was her fiancée.
“Look, it is not like you think..”, I tried to reason. He raised his hand, and snarled,
“Now, don’t add insult to injury.” Turning to Shikha, he hissed, “You know everything. A lot of surprises await you, cruel surprises.”
“Come back to Delhi to enjoy them”, he added loudly and walked off.
Shikha, who had been fluttering around like a butterfly a few minutes back, was now shivering like a water reed. I cursed Nithin, under my breath, for having spoilt our lovely moments, as I tried to calm her down.
“Happily ever after tag may not apply to our love story, but with you beside me, we’ll be able to overcome every hurdle, including the ‘cruel surprises’ that Nithin will arrange for us”, surmised Shikha, after recovering from the initial shock.
“Hmm.. yes… but maybe, we must first have a Proper Wedding attended by our parents, in a hall booked for us”, suggested I.
Both of us burst out laughing, and so did our friends. Nithin, and his threats were very much a reality, but it somehow seemed less scary now. We decided we would face it as it comes, but we’d allow nothing to spoil our “Proper Wedding”.
– Lakshmi Ananthasubramanian