Friday, August 19, 2011

The irony of fate....

The air of sadness around me is terrifying.Happiness is so short lived that I feel scared to be happy anymore.    I met my best friend of several years after a long hiatus.The joy of meeting was insurmountable. As the day of the meeting approached,I wondered if that old connect would still be there or would we feel awkward to even talk to each other.Nevertheless, I had a hundred things to say to her,tell her about all the happenings in these years of being away and listen to her story in turn.

Surprisingly,when we met,it felt like we had just met yesterday.As if these long years had never existed. As if we had never really been that far away! The feeling of giving her a tight hug was so reassuring,so comforting and so nostalgic,that it brought a lump to my throat.

We settled in an ambient restaurent for a small bite and a long session of soul talk.I narrated how I had been doing all these years,how I had married the person of my liking and had now settled down at home looking after my children.I knew she had got married,so I inquired about how she was doing.What she narrated,jolted me out of my seat and made me numb with pain.She had lost her husband to cancer a few years after her marriage and was living all by herself.Listening to the trauma she had undergone all these years made my heart ache and looking at how bravely she had faced a calamity of this nature and was living life so courageously and maturely brought tears to my eyes.I felt sad at the very thought of not being there for her when she would have needed my support.She spoke about how life had come to a grinding halt for her,whereas it was moving on for all others she knew.The difficulties she faced everyday,the emptiness surrounding her,the void she felt back home after a long day at work.I had a terrible feeling of helplessness.I wanted to say something to make her feel better,but did not know what to say.It was so difficult to even fathom the loss,the loneliness,the grief that she was feeling,that nothing I said would seem enough or even appropriate.

Later when my mind ran through her words,I realised how tough it must be for her each day. I was amazed at how much she had, to teach me ,in terms of her experience,how she was taking life in the right spirit,and how  mature she had become.

(Pic courtesy: Google images)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The first crush.........the unrequited love!!

The date was 9th of october 1993....It was her first cousin,Karthik`s wedding!! Shalini was eager to be a part of the celebrations. She had got a lovely green ghagra choli stiched for the occasion. When she looked at herself in the mirror,she blushed,"Shalini,you are looking amazing today",she said to herself,"as always" ,she added as an after thought and smiled.

She was Karthik`s favorite sister and he had always pampered and loved her the most.There was never a dull moment with her cousin. He was always so cheerful,so full of fun and most of all,he gave her whatever she asked for.He treated her like her own brother would have,never making her feel that it was their dad`s who were siblings,and they were first cousins..

 His wedding was surely the big moment she  had been waiting for!She was impatiently waiting to see her bhabhi, Nivedita,the one who would be sharing her  brother`s life.The whole place was abuzz with a lot of people and activities. The decorations were beautiful ,there were flower torans everywhere,the shenais were being played melodiously.And then, she saw him....

Since the first time  their eyes met, she couldn`t take her eyes off him! He was talking animatedly to her parents who seemed to be happy in his company. She walked towards her parents and her mom introduced her to him.

"Vishal,meet my daughter ,Shalini. And beta Shalini he is your bhabhi`s brother."

He had just taken her parents out for an ice cream treat as it was Shalini`s mom`s birthday.

There was a magical feel,as if their meeting was intended to be!!All through the wedding Shalini found herself secretly gazing at this stranger who seemed to have swept her off her feet, the very first time she saw him!..She had never experienced this feeling before.Though she had several male friends,she had never set her eyes on anyone before..Was this a crush?If it was, then this was a first of sorts...

The wedding was a great affair,the food was delicious,and the bride and groom looked happy together.The time came for the bidai and Shalini`s family took their new bride home. Before they left, Shalini had managed to befriend Vishal and he promised to stay in touch. Shalini didn't want to seem too eager ,so she kept  a safe distance,measuring every word she said or wrote. The letters started pouring in ,each letter not more than a page long.

 "Vishal must be the most discreet guy in the world",she thought,"he seems to drop no hint which way his feelings are headed.. He seems friendly but definitely not in love with me".

But of course this did not deter her from dreaming about him ! With each passing day,the feeling became deeper and deeper to the extent of madness.

Her dearest friend Avantika, guessed the truth and confronted her,

"Shalu, are you in love with this guy?",she asked one day.

Shalini smiled,"I don`t really know Avi."

She would even write Mrs.Vishal Agasthya in her book and look at it for hours....She`d imagine the both of them together,and blush at the thought!! She could only think about him at day or at night!! Oh! the years of madness....
 Could all this be a result of  the hoards of Mills & Boons and romanticized Sidney Sheldons  that she must have read before she met this man?

One day she had a visitor.Vishal`s cousin, Pradyumna,who stayed in the same town as Shalini`s came with an unexpected proposal.

"Uncle,I think Vishal and Shalini would make a handsome pair. Why not give your daughter`s hand in marriage to the most eligible bachelor in the family",he asked.

He later told Shalini, "You have stolen my cousin`s heart but he doesn`t know how you feel.What do you want me tell him?" .

 A shy Shalini was taken aback, "Bhaiyya, I will go with whatever my parents decide is good for me.".

Her parents liked Vishal, "He is a fine young man but our Shalu has to finish her graduation, lets wait for a couple of years.",said her mother .

Shalini was still studying and in her second year of graduation. Shalini ,ofcourse,was on cloud nine!! "Could this be true? Was this really happening? How many people could even think of such a nice ending to a lovely dream?" She continued communicating with Vishal and still acting coy as if she didn`t know a thing!

One day,Shalini was making tea for her parents ,when they received a phone call .It was from Vishal`s father.

"Hello,this is Virendra, It is quite shameful that I have to make this call to you Mr.Kaushik.Your younger daughter Shalini has been writing love letters to my son.What kind of a father would give his daughter so much freedom?We live in a conservative society, Mr.Kaushik,and I suggest that you put reins on your daughter, unless you are prepared for some surprise from her."

Shalini`s father was sure that his daughter would never do something to bring disrepute to him ,

" Mr.Virendra,I am sure there`s been some misunderstanding.As for my daughter,I am very sure that she knows her limits and would never mis-utilise the freedom that she enjoys.On the other hand ,I doubt your son`s intentions , Mr.Virendra,especially when he has the guts to send a marriage proposal through his cousin rather than through his family.Why not ask him what`s on his mind?" and retaliated by quoting the proposal sent by Vishal through his cousin Pradyumna.

There was a war of words and the phone was a weary soul when it was put down.....this was followed by a fierce round of questioning and Shalini vehemently denied the allegations.She did accept that she was communicating with Vishal though she had never written anything that could be misconstrued as a love letter.

Her bubble of happiness burst when her father told her without mincing words that he would never accept a proposal from Vishal`s father in the future.

"Look at the nerve of that fellow Virendra. Who does he think he is? I will marry off Shalu to any one but his son."

Shalini knew that this would be the end of a relationship that never really took off..

But there was more to come.Sometime later , Karthik`s mother passed away due to a prolonged illness and Shalini attended her funeral.Karthik was inconsolable and so Shalini and her parents decided to spend some time with Karthik`s  family.

Nivedita and Shalini had become great friends  and during the stay Shalini found that Nivedita would often tease her,"Hey Shalu,whom have you dressed up so beautifully for? Vishal is arriving tomorrow" and "Be sure to wear your pink salwar.Vishal loves pink," or "I am making Vishal`s favorite vegetable,care to learn?"

"Oh! this was confusing!! Does bhabhi know about my feelings? or is she trying to convey her brother`s feelings for me?",thought Shalini.

 But whatever it was,she could feel a flicker of hope ignite in her."Would she help me in any way? Should I confide in her? What if I am wrong? What if I misread everything? No...I couldn`t take that chance.I would be a laughing stock,how embarrassing it would be for my dad!"

It was time to get back and her family and Vishal started out from Karthik`s home on the same evening.Her father was surprisingly calm and happy chatting with Vishal.At the railway station,they parted ways without speaking much as their trains were on different platforms.

As there was some time, Shalini was standing outside the compartment and chatting with her uncle when she saw him come.Her heart missed a beat and everyone could sense her feelings(or so it seemed to her). Her uncle disappeared inside on the pretext of talking to her father. Everyone left them alone to talk as if it was the expected thing to do!

She could only remember feeling numb with the joy of having some time to spend with him,with pain of not being able to convey her feelings for him,with the sadness of knowing that all she had was just a few minutes which she will in all probability not utilise at all....She could not even recollect what he spoke because she just stood there like a deaf and dumb person and stared at him,not understanding one word of what he said...not knowing what she should do or say....It was soon time to leave ,the train blew its painful whistle and she was stuck to the window,trying to catch one last glimpse of this person who had stirred these difficult  feelings inside of her....and then she cried..tears poured down her cheeks like they wouldn`t stop till they burned her whole face down....She tried to pretend to be asleep so that no one could see  her swollen face and red eyes. 

Then something happened that would change her life forever...Her brother and bhabhi couldn`t get along and all this created a rift that could never be mended.This gave way for heated family discussions and one day they decided to part ways.Shalini prayed that Karthik and Nivedita should never part because she loved them both dearly,she loved her little nephew, Anirudh even more and Vishal was another reason as well,any strain on their relationship would signal an end to their relationship too....But everything happened for the worse and their relationship ended on a rather bitter note.

By this time Shalini had decided to forget this entire episode and moved to a new place with Avantika.But she never could forget the first love of her life. She didn`t really know if she was happy or sad when she learnt that Vishal was living in the same city too. She still hoped Karthik and Nivedita would reconcile at some stage ,but that was not to be.She got enough reasons to meet Vishal again .Over a period of time his family and Nivedita moved in with him and when she met his family she was happy that they did not harbor any animosity towards her.She continued to be good friends with Nivedita.Once again a plethora of feelings started erupting and she hoped against hope that all would be well....

On one such visit Nivedita invited her to a little picnic that she had planned for Anirudh. As they got into the car,"Champ",she called out to Anirudh,"let`s sit in the rear seat,that way mummy and you can have lots of fun,ok?"
"Shalu,why dont you sit with Vishal in the front seat,anyway",she continued"some day that seat`s meant for you."

Throughout the trip Nivedita found a lot to tease Shalu about, and it made Shalini very happy to think that things could be fine still.

It always bothered her though  that Vishal never spoke to her about his feelings for her, so she never really knew if they existed at all......

Time passed swiftly and Shalini tried dragging her mind into other things,made other friends,got involved with her work and tried to get over her madness..But soon she received an invitation for Vishal`s engagement!

"Engagement? to someone else? what do I do now?This was my last chance...I have to convey my feelings to him or else he would be lost to me forever.."

A whirlpool of thoughts ran through her mind..this somehow didnt seem right at all! On one hand she did not even know what Vishal had in his mind...
"did he ever reciprocate?No I don`t remember him saying anything remotely related to me..what repercussions would my confessions have on our families? my brother would be very upset,after all that he and bhabhi have been through,this was probably the last thing he expected me to say,maybe even our families would be aghast,shocked or even angry at how I could even think up something like this...all these were my feelings...,they had no beginning....,no end...,no future...., no basis.... ,no bearing on anyone`s matted to me and me alone!! What a pathetic situation to be in!"

She debated with herself ; "if I did confess my feelings would everybody understand? Will my brother and bhabhi still stand by me irrespective of their differences? Will the families forget their hatred and give us their blessings? will it  in any way  pave way for the two dearest people in my life,my brother and bhabhi to be united once again? why shouldn`t I give my feelings a chance?" But the whole problem was that Vishal had never said a word about his feelings to her...and she would never know if any existed or they were just a figment of her imagination...

She went to the engagement with all these thoughts clouding her mind and emotions overpowering her heart...

"Come on Vishal, put the ring on Sunidhi`s finger now", his mother was saying.

Her heart broke into a million pieces when she saw him slip that ring into Sunidhi`s finger ..She knew it was time to say a silent goodbye...She walked away with a heavy heart and eyes brimming with tears....For days after that she hardly spoke to anyone nor ate properly nor slept peacefully....Her closest friend Avantika, cajoled her out of her grief out over several hot cups of coffee...

" Avantika do you think there would be some miracle,some divine intervention that would change everything..?"

Alas ! that was not to be. The date for his wedding approached and she made a firm resolve not to be a part of it...The stress was killing her,it was unbearable...

 "I think you should go and attend his wedding ,Shalu, stop living in a make believe world anymore.",Avantika insisted.

Viren uncle had arranged for a bus to take his family and relatives to the bride`s place.Shalini reached his home and saw cheery faces everywhere....people were singing,dancing and packing.She was the only gloomy one around! Finally the stress was too much to bear and she had not eaten in two days, Shalini felt nauseous and told Viren uncle she wanted to go home and he happily permitted her to leave.

She had a stress induced gastritis attack, her stomach burned and she threw up. She thought it was a good reason to go home and skip the wedding.

Shalini called up Avantika , "Avi,pick me up,I think I am dying".

Avantika picked her up ,"you drama queen, you will be well in few hours time, let`s go to Dr.Trivedi".

After a few hours rest,some medicines and a filling paratha that Avantika had made for her, Shalini felt better.

"You better get going Shalu, or the marriage party will leave without you.You don`t plan to go there all by yourself,do you?"

 " No,Avi,I am not going anywhere,I don`t want to go through the rigours of seeing Vishal get married."

 " Shalini  go...just go and face the truth" .

As always,Avantika won the argument and Shalini went back to Vishal`s home and saw faces with exclamation writ on them .No one really cared about Shalini being a part of the wedding entourage.The journey to the bride`s place seemed to be the longest she had ever undertaken..Every minute was painful and she just wanted to run away...she just couldn`t smile and pretended it was because of the gastritis.

The bus took a short break to refuel and everyone got out for a quick bite.Shalini walked by Vishal one last time..She wanted to hold his hand and tell him,please run away with me,don't get married now....but did nothing and instead smiled at what a stupid thought that was!! He seemed happy to be getting married anyway,so what was the big deal? She saw him take his wedding vows and said a silent prayer,may he be happy always.....

Avantika had been right after all, Shalini did feel lighter on her way back home. Over a period of time, she didn`t dream of him anymore, didnt want him anymore...because with facing the truth came a bigger strength to bear it and overcome it...

The dream that began with a wedding had ended with a wedding!! Life had come a full circle!

(Pic courtesy: Google images)

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