Reema Tripathy – ‘Is Love the Reason?’
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.
It had been four long years; four years three months and ten days to be precise. I wanted to run up to Vandana. My eyes pined to catch one glimpse of hers. But our break up was also a fact which I could not wish away. My heart pleaded with me to talk to her. My mind objected; beware she will hurt you again. It is interesting how we perceive distances. Five years back, she had gone abroad for a short while but we had been as involved in each other’s lives as two people sharing a room would be. And now, she wasn’t even two feet away, yet the chasm seemed insurmountable for me to bridge. The chilly Delhi air was not able to dampen my spirit; I decided that I would speak to her. I badly wanted to hug her tightly and cry bitterly but somehow restrained myself. I mustered courage to say ‘Hi.’ There was no response. I looked into her eyes. They seemed blank. She was not even acknowledging my presence. ’Hi’ I repeated. Still no response. Just then, a burly man came in between us. ‘Excuse me, we are getting late.’ I wanted to retort, but the words would not come out. I am not a roadside ruffian making a pass at your beloved. And I was the centre of your beloved’s universe, even before you came into her life, I wanted to yell. True, we were no longer together. But it was her decision and I respected that. When she had already moved on in life, why did she need to be so indifferent to me? Was it the same Vandana who had proposed to me? Who had moved into my room in college? Is it so easy to flush people out of your lives? Then why do I feel like talking to her? I wondered.
Enough!!I should not sulk, I reprimanded myself. That chance encounter made me realise that I had been a fool to think that I did not miss her. That was because I had immersed myself in work. One glimpse and she was back to dominating my mind space. No wonder, before the flight attendant could ask for my preference, I had blurted out salted cashews – her all-time favourite.
I landed at Bengaluru and hailed a cab. I got to see her no more. The city had changed a lot in the last four years, i.e., it had become more chaotic. The owner of Chetty’s Corner, a local eatery was being interviewed on the radio. He was the brains behind the famed ‘Bun Nippat’ a kind of burger and that was this snack that had brought Vandana into my life.
It was the first day at B school. I still remember that evening vividly. Most of the seniors frequented the Chetty’s. I had gone there with Animesh and Sohail. After taking one bite of the famed snack I said, ‘This can definitely be improved upon.’ Really? Show me how,’ challenged a voice from behind. I turned around and saw Vandana, a batch-mate, for the first time. Long hair, bright eyes and flawless skin, it was difficult for any guy not to take note of her. She had thrown down the gauntlet and I had to accept it on behalf of the guy fraternity. The tiny kitchen in Animesh’s studio apartment was my examination venue. Along with the nippat, I used cheese and sweet corn for the filling. She loved it. She said, ‘You are someone who knows what he talks.’ From that day we became friends.
The traffic was moving at a snail’s pace. I turned around and realized that I had been stuck near Windsor Manor, a prominent hotel. It was the first five star hotel that I had gone to and Vandana had taken me there. We had started dating by then, but this wasn’t a date. She felt that I needed to learn table manners that came in handy while handling clients, especially foreigners. The rustic Punjabi that I was, I ended up creating quite a scene there. On one occasion the fork flew out of my hand and on another a piece of chicken. We were there for about an hour and by the end of it, every person sitting in 360 degree radius of us had noticed me – thanks to clinking and clanking of cutlery and my clumsy mannerisms. I was embarrassed but she just laughed. Later we savoured the roadside pani-puri – with our hands of course.I kept wondering as to how she could choose to be with me.
Half an hour had passed. I was now stuck beside the famous Golf Course. We used to go there once in a while. Golf is the favourite sport of the rich; it’s only the wealthy who can afford to play it. She believed that the golf course could offer lessons in client management. She had managed a membership through one of her father’s colleagues who was a top bureaucrat in Delhi. I used to be amazed at the ease with which she could strike up conversations with the rich and powerful. Within five outings we had the visiting cards of almost all the dignitaries of Bengaluru. She was a natural charmer alright, but she also persevered. I hoped that some of her talent and doggedness would rub off on me.
The traffic started flowing. I reached the hotel. I wanted to look forward to the next day. It was Hitesh’s D day.
As I got up the next morning and glanced at my watch, the first thing that struck me was that it was Vandana’s birthday. To distract my attention, I tried flipping through the pages of the newspaper. There was a piece titled ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever.’ The article used it to refer to an old fort; I had used it to wish her on her birthday in college. As always, I had realized later that I had committed a blunder – by referring to her as ‘thing.’ Did I need to goof up all the time? By the way, I specialize in committing blunders, so I would never stop at one. I went up to her and admitted my mistake even before she had read the note. She smiled, ‘You have made my day by quoting Keats for me,’ and kissed me.
‘Let go man!’ A voice was screeching inside my mind. I obeyed. I got ready and reached Hitesh’s marriage venue in no time. It was a reunion of sorts. Majority had gained weight and the hairlines of most of the guys had receded. We hugged, joked and teased but I was feeling incomplete. Just like the absence of one person in a crowd of fifty is felt in a family get-together, I was missing Vandana. Whosoever I spoke to, whatever we discussed the common thread – it was Vandana. I checked with Animesh. She had not been in touch with anyone after college and thus could not be invited.
Hitesh was getting hitched to an Odia. I knew all the Odia marriage rituals verbatim. Vandana, an Odia, had made me go over them umpteen number of times. A particular ritual called ‘Khaipoda’ was underway. The bride had to stand up and offer puffed rice to the fire. The groom was to hold her from behind. ‘If you eat pizzas like this you are soon gonna look like a globe. How will this lean fellow hold you during ‘Khaipoda’? I had asked her one night. She retorted, ‘Mr Lean Guy, do take note of your height. When you stand behind me you’ll be barely noticeable.’ ‘Good, I’ll slide my fingers beneath your saree and go right up to the….. I was standing behind her. My hands had already started to trace the outline of her silhouette and were slowly moving down from the waist toward the navel. Sex was different that night; it was coupled with commitment. Probably that’s what is called making love.
The blowing of the conch shells brought me back to my senses. I longed for the warmth of her body.
I wanted to rest in her arms and dismiss the reality as a nightmare. Meanwhile ‘Haatha-ganthi’ had started. As per this ritual, the bride’s father had to place his daughter’s hand on the groom’s and symbolically hand over his daughter’s responsibility to him. We will tweak that; ‘you are my responsibility as well,’ she would say. I had been sloshed once and was about to unzip and urinate on the dance floor. She had dragged me by my hands into the hostel. The following morning, she broke down while recollecting the incident. ‘Please revisit your roots, goals and actions.’ She did not say anything more. That was the first time that I saw her cry. At that time the server asked me my choice of drink. ‘None.’ That was all I could say. My voice had choked.
All the rites had been solemnised. The moon was out in its full glory to bless the newlyweds. Could it not have been a bit more kind towards us?
It was a full moon night. Vandana had just returned from home. She was worried about her dad. The doctors feared that he was sinking into depression. Her mother had died long back. Her dad had still not been able to get over her death. Vandana, his only child, had tended to him; she considered his wellbeing her responsibility. Trying to lighten up her mood, I said ‘Why don’t you fast for me on all full moon nights? I’ll come back and feed you, exactly as in the movies. A Punjabi bahu needs to observe Karwa Chauth, you see.’ I said sounding like a hopeless romantic. To my utter astonishment, she flared up. Who do you think I am? Some demi goddess? Dude, do you realise how heavily dependent you are on me? I am sick of your expectations, it’s suffocating. Let’s not drag this further.’
I was in a daze. I didn’t have the faintest idea of what had hit me. She packed her stuff and moved out to her room in the girls’ hostel. I stood still because I did not know what to say or do. She was right, I was useless. For anything and everything, I required her opinion, assistance or encouragement. She was classy and I was not even average. It’s said that women love men who they can look up to. In our case it was just the reverse. But then, she should have realised this at the first instance. Did she need to walk into my life and then walk out abruptly? She could have anyone she wanted, but where do I get someone who can match her? I was seething with anger. But she, as always, was dead sure. It was our last day in college. She avoided me in the reunion party in the evening. She left in the early hours of the next day. She had requested her recruiters in Mumbai to take her that day itself. She seemed to be in a great hurry to run away from me.
Unable to let go of, I slipped out of the wedding. I left Bengaluru the following morning.
One year had passed by. I was sitting at Mumbai airport, travelling to UK on business. I was a top investment banker now. My transition had been like the ‘before-after-pictures’ put up by weight loss clinics – drastic and unbelievable. Clients swore by me. I was the top management’s blue eyed boy. I lived in a posh sea-facing flat in Juhu and owned a Mercedes. It was a matter of time before I got inducted into the board. Girls considered it a privilege to be seen with me. My parents also wanted me to settle down. But how could I? The way I matched my ties, the way I chose my clothes, the way I greeted clients, struck up conversations, pitched for deals, responded to crises – all of that was how Vandana wanted it to be. I travelled all across the globe, clinching deals. Hence I knew that no girl would invest in me; I was a loss making proposition. I had everything that I could have only dreamt of while in Gurdaspur. Yet now I did not know what I wanted.
I saw a familiar face in the crowd. Yes, he was Vandana’s guy. I walked up to him.
‘Hello, but do we know each other?’
‘Vandana… Bengaluru airport… last year.’
‘Vandana…? Vandu… Oh, yes.’
‘How’s she’?’ I asked hoping that she was around.
‘Not sure. Not too well the last time I checked.’
‘What? You guys are not together?’ I was shocked.
‘No. I am just a family friend. Poor girl. You know even after ten years her dad could not get over her mom’s death. His condition had gradually worsened into one of acute depression. That took a toll on Vandu. It seemed that she loved someone madly in her college. Stupid girl that she is, she dumped him. Reason? ‘He’s so dependent on me, exactly like dad. What if destiny plays spoilsport again? I cannot afford to see him like dad.’ Little did she realise that she was sinking into depression. Her dad’s death last year had wrecked her; her condition started deteriorating. Her uncle lives in Bangalore. The day you met us, she was going to get admitted to NIMHANS. The doctors are not very hopeful. Lately, she has started acting in a weird manner. She refuses to take food every full moon night, says she’s observing Karwa Chauth. Were you close to her? Please try to find out that guy if you can. Got to rush buddy, take care.’
I stood there stunned. How close I was to her? I could feel how fast she breathed when I went near her. I knew how her heart throbbed when I rested my head on her bosom. I knew her pulse for I would not get sleep unless I held her wrist. To be honest, I did not know how I felt. One part of me was on cloud nine, I was very much THE guy in her life. The other part of me wanted to hide in the deepest recesses of earth; how could I leave her alone in the darkest phase of her life? I should have realized that she could not be right always; she was human. The parting of ways was a wrong decision, I needed to tell her that. And as usual, I had chickened out. The meeting at the Delhi airport was not a chance encounter. All through my stay at Bengaluru, nature was giving me cues which I ignored. I was only responsible for the mess that she was in. I will set right whatever I have spoilt, I resolved. I had to.
I walked up to the ticket counter, and said, ‘Next flight to Bengaluru please’.