9. His story
Few years back…
Heathrow Airport, London
They sat there, without exchanging a word. The environment was thick with emotion and he could feel a sense of depression. All he wanted now was go get out of here, and take his words back. It was strange, for he was not the one who believed in omens, yet he definitely believed in gut feelings, and hence he was scared. He’d the intuition that something was going to happen. Something unpleasant…
He felt a hand on his, and raised his eyes to look at her. Suruchi Kashyap; the girl who he’d known all his life; who was practically there in each page of his life. His best friend.
“I—” she started fiddling with her fingers, unable to complete her line of thoughts. He was surprised to see this side of her. The Kashyaps were their family friends and the friendship was carried through him and her in this generation. True, there was his sister and Suruchi’s brother, but they were always at odds, and for some reason, he and Suruchi were much closer than what he and his sister or even Suruchi and her brother were. Knowing someone all your life makes it so easy for you to read them. He knew every tiny gesture of hers, so as she. And as far as he knew his Suruchi was a strong woman. Then where did this nervousness come from? But then again love does that to you.
“I” she started again, now her voice breaking. She could not speak more, not that it was needed. He understood and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, trying to comfort her.
“I don’t want to go” she said as tears finally trickled down her eyes, as she buried her face in his shoulder.
“Ruchi” he called softly, patting her.
“I don’t want to go NG”
He smiled at her. She always called him that. It was a childhood habit of hers. She couldn’t get a hold of his complete name when she was a kid and stuck to the abbreviation and that remained between them. Every time she called him that, he was reminded of that little Suruchi with a bob cut who’d not spare as much as another second to punch boys of her class. Watching her this way, hence made him feel guilty somewhere yet he stood his ground.
“You’re going home, just home”
“I know” she sniffed, wiping her tears with a tissue “But, I really don’t want to go, I am… I am scared”
“The great Suruchi Kashyap and scared, now that’s something new”
She didn’t retort nor did she whack on his arm. Instead, she buried her face in her palms and closed her eyes. He felt a fear grip his heart. He couldn’t see her like this, nor could he tolerate that she is here, right now because of him.
He placed a soothing hand on her shoulder, trying to calm down his racing heart.
“Ruc—” he was cut off by a sudden voice.
The rich voice made both of them look up only to come face to face with a sandy haired, tall man. Suruchi looked up at the man and soon enough felt her heart constrict, and she couldn’t hold herself anymore. She got up and threw her arms around him and sobbed, hiding her face in his chest.
He sat there watching the couple, and felt worse. He didn’t want to separate them, nor was he doing that in the true sense of the word. Suruchi was being sent home by him, since he wanted her to ask her parents’ permission instead of taking a nasty step.
Last week, Suruchi received a call from her parents asking her to come home, and there was a mention of a match for her. She panicked and informed Aakash Subrahmanian, with whom she was in a relationship for over five years.
Aakash Subrahmanian was a south Indian they met at their school in London. He was all that Suruchi wasn’t. Calm and composed. No one would’ve expected Suruchi and Aakash to end up together. However, it did happen. And surprising everyone, their relationship sustained, even after their grads.
For him, Suruchi and Aakash were everything. Best friends, family, his social circle, everything. He’d seen them together, and he’d seen what love is from so close. He’d supported them, and would continue to do so, however he couldn’t support a single decision of Suruchi. He could not agree to the secret marriage Suruchi and Aakash were planning to have.
“I am disappointed with you” was all he told them. And that was enough to make Suruchi wince.
“But they’d marry me off NG, they’d given me an ultimatum”
“I have known your parents as long as I have known mine Suruchi, so don’t give me any excuses”
“If you’ve enough guts, go and talk to them, else, go get married and do whatever you want to, but don’t expect me to support you”
Yes, he’d been rude, and unfair, but he couldn’t see her giving up before trying. Yes, she was scared but they’re her parents after all. They’d understand or at least he thought they would. And so, after so much of pushing, she finally agreed to go back to India to tell them about her and Aakash. He was supposed to go with her but he’d some important work at hand, and told her he’d join her in a week. However, at this moment, when she’d so less time to get into the flight, he felt an eerie feeling, and this sudden urge to stop her. He shook his head, putting an end to his wayward thoughts and looked at the couple before him.
He’d watched as Aakash passed a loving hand through her hair and muttered things slowly. He couldn’t make a head or tail of anything he said since he was speaking in his mother tongue, which he used only at times like these…
“Are you done with your code language?” he asked to distract them.
He saw Aakash smile at him and shake his head “Chumma ukkaru da”
“Excuse me” he said wondering why was he supposed to do anything with chumma?
He saw Suruchi look at him, and for the first time since her decision to go back India, she smiled a sunny smile through tears.
“Chumma ukkaru means shut up. It isn’t the chumma you think of”
“I am glad” he rolled his eyes “Kindly keep the other chumma with you, I’ve no issues”
He saw her smile brightly now and come to him and give him a tight hug.
“Oh NG I would miss you”
He gave her a bear hug and patted on her head “I know” he said arrogantly and after receiving a punch in his stomach, he added “Ouch, fine I miss you too”
He felt the grip around him tighten involuntarily at the announcement and slowly parted from her “Look, I promise I would be back in a week, okay, and I know mum and dad, they surely would agree to this alliance. They love you, and they would understand”
“Shh” he said placing a finger on her lips. “I would be there right next to you within a week, with Aakash, and before you know we’d be heading back, together, this time with good news”
He’d seen the ray of hope in her eyes, and with a last kiss to Aakash, she was off to India, which decided her fate…
* * *
A week later…
A strange surge of excitement hit him, like always when he had stepped in his country. Every time he came back to India, he felt his heart swell with happiness, he felt as if he was home, in all true sense. London, though was a place of his liking, with its fast paced lifestyle, can’t be compared to India. After all, this is his motherland, the country where he was born and bought up, and had many memories entwined with. He smiled looking at the crowded Airport. For a change, there was no one to receive him this time. It wasn’t their fault after all he had not informed anyone about his arrival, lest that would spoil the surprise. This trip would be different from all of his previous trips, for more than one reason, he concluded, why wouldn’t it be, after all there was no Suruchi with him this time. As Aakash had been to Canada, where his parents stay, and is supposed to come the next day, this time he had travelled all alone. He smiled as he thought about his friends. Aakash and Suruchi.
Suruchi, that name bought a smile and a frown on his face. Ever since she’d been to India, there was not even a call or message from her. Granted, he was busy in wrapping few last minute works at office to have a peaceful holiday and didn’t have the time to mail her but what about her? The girl had not bothered to send him few “I reached safe” lines. She’s so dead, so very dead!
Making up his mind, he hired a taxi, which was headed to Kashyap Mansion.
* * *
He headed to the Kashyap Mansion only to find it locked. He saw Hari Prasad, the helper walking towards the servant quarters, and called him.
“Where is everyone?” he asked.
The answer he received made him drop his bags on the ground, and in turn made the land beneath his feet slip…
* * *
A week later…
He sat at the usual place, crossing his legs and looking straight ahead. He looked up at the sky and found the sky getting dark, with every passing minute. The thunder and lightning gave an idea of what lie ahead. Yet, he didn’t bother getting up from his place. He’d no energy left in him anymore.
That day when he’d been to the hospital, he felt Hariprasad’s words ringing in his head.
“Suicide attempt…engagement…cut her wrists…hospital…”
The words made no sense anymore as he urged the driver to drive fast and reached Mediciti Hospital, the very place where his best friend would be fighting with death.
He reached there finally, he’d seen his family and her family breaking down, but strangely nothing mattered anymore. He’d seen her lifeless form in ICU through the glass and felt a lump form in his throat. He’d felt a hand grip his shoulder and turned to find Suruchi’s dad looking at him with tears. He still had no idea how he’d controlled then, and how he’d stayed calm without raising his hand against the elder man. He’d no idea. May be the morals that were instilled in him stopped him to do that. Because there was no reason for him to not act upon his impulse because there was no respect left for the despicable man. If not for him, if not for Suruchi’s family, who’d first locked her in a room, and then forced her into an engagement, she’d not have been in hospital that day.
Their reason was quite simple. That Aakash was a South Indian. He wanted to laugh at the atrocity of it. Does language matter to them that much that they would behave as heartless animals and bring death to their own daughter?
There was another thunder and soon it started raining, while he stared ahead, his hands form fists as he looked at the tombstone before him.
10-08-1985 to 23-07-2008
Suruchi Kashyap, his best friend, was no more. He’d lost her. In fact he had murdered her. Had he not forced her to go back to India, she might have been alive today. He remembered how Aakash came the very next day, only to come face to face to a lifeless Suruchi. He’d remembered how he’d caressed her face for one last time, he’d remembered how Aakash didn’t let go of her hand, when she was being taken away…
He’d remembered how Aakash kept looking at the girl’s lifeless body when she was buried.
He felt a wetness on his cheeks which has nothing to do with the rain. He’d stood up and looked at the tombstone with uncontrolled anger.
“I would never forgive you for doing this to me Ruchi. I would never forgive you for not informing me once; for not thinking about me once before taking this step” was all he had said before walking away.
* * *
He felt a hand grip his, and looked up to find her looking at him with wet eyes.
“What happened to Aakash?” he heard her ask.
He smiled wryly, as he felt another wave of anger hit him.
“After a month or two, he’d had an accident and passed away”
He heard her gasp, he had not met her eye, as he bit down the words harshly “Apparently he’d resorted to drinking after she’d passed away and on one such night, when he was driving after having few shots, he met with an accident”
He felt as if he went back in time, when he’d lost two of his best friends, one after another. He could still remember how eerily silent their flat felt, without the two, and how he’d shifted to another flat, closer to his office, and how he’d spent his days and nights at the office, trying to immerse himself in work. He still remembered how every part of the city they’d been together to before, haunted him and how he’d hated every memory of them.
He felt angry back then, angry at everyone, at her parents, at her, at Aakash, and at himself. He’d felt empty too. He felt as if he was lost in the world with no one around him, at least not the ones that mattered a lot to him. He’d stopped coming to India after that, and cut his ties with Kashyaps. Let them be damned, he cared less.
He’d put himself away from his family, from his motherland, and everything that reminded him of them. Four years was a long time to get over grief, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. If it was for him, he’d not have come back to India at the first place, but his grandmother emotionally blackmailed him, asking him to get married, which of course she was doing for so long. However, this time she’d had a major attack and was bed ridden, and the first thing she asked him was about him marrying a girl and settling down in his life, hence he said a yes to the alliance and was here, back to the very place he despised.
“My grandmother when was admitted in hospital asked me only one thing. Settle down was all she said and how could I reject that. However, when I am here, I got to know that my bride was forced into this marriage. I felt as if I was back in time. I don’t want another girl with Suruchi’s fate and hence I did the first thing that crossed my mind. I packed my bags and left the place. The next day is my wedding, and also the very day they’d find the groom missing. I am positive of them taking it as my nonchalance or indifference or both, I don’t care. What I know is, in our great country even if there is a problem with the groom, a marriage broken at this stage would cause disgrace to the bride’s family. Thanks to our society, she’ll be blamed, the wedding would be called off for sure, but do you think there’d be any new matches for her in near future?” he looked at her and smiled “No, there wouldn’t be”
He looked out of the car, and tried to focus his attention on the moving vehicles.
He felt her firm grip on his shoulder, yet he didn’t try to face her. He had no idea why he’d shared it with her, but he felt like. He expected her to say sorry, that’s what everyone did. However she surprised him.
“It was not your fault” he heard her voice say.
His ears perked up at those words. In these past four years, everyone saw his anger, and grief, no one actually saw through the reasons he showed to the world, no one actually saw the real reason he had in his heart. And now, after all these years, when she hit the nail about the reason he somewhere buried in his heart, his continence, for which he prided himself the most, broke as he faced her.
“It was my fault god damn it, had not I forced her to go to India—” his words trailed off as he felt an undeniable urge to scream. He didn’t want pity. He didn’t need her to look at him like that. He had to be despised. He couldn’t save his best friends. He had to be loathed, not pitied.
“It was not your fault” she repeated again. Cupping his jaw, and making him face her she repeated “It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t know”
“I would have known” he said in a broken voice. “I would have, I killed her. I—” he couldn’t say more as he felt her hand against his mouth, stopping the flow of his words.
“How is it your fault when all you wanted was her happiness? You’d wanted her to have her parents’ approval because you didn’t want her to have regrets in future, same way she readily agreed because even she wanted the same. Which girl would want to have her wedding without her parents’ blessings?” she asked him looking in the eye.
He closed his eyes with his palms and all he could see was Suruchi’s face, when he last saw her at Heathrow airport.
“I would be there right next to you within a week, with Aakash, and before you know we’d be heading back, together, this time with a good news”
He heard his own voice in his head, the last words he’d spoken to Suruchi. He’d seen a ray of hope in her eyes then. A hope, which was later crushed and crumpled.
She looked at the man before her and her heart went out for him. He had his face enclosed in his palms, and she couldn’t for the life of her, think of something to say, which would remove his pain away, the very pain which was in his heart for about four years.
“Is it so easy to end your life?” she heard him ask.
“How can be anyone so selfish? Haven’t she thought about people who love her once? Haven’t she thought about what would happen to us, to me?”
“If I were to choose between my separation from my beloved and death, maybe I’d have done the same” he heard her say.
He looked at her fiercely and gripped her shoulders “Don’t you say that” he bit out. “It might be so easy to take a nasty step but remember you wouldn’t die alone. You would take the happiness of everyone who loves you” he said.
His words held such intensity that she felt her breath knock out of her chest “Never even think of something like that. I know how it feels to lose someone.” He said averting his eyes, and that moment, something snapped in her. She closed her eyes as she felt an urge to remove his pain away and embrace him. She wanted to provide comfort to his parched soul. The very thought made her eyes snap open. She felt his eyes on her and fluttered her lashes, not having enough courage to look into his eyes.
He’d seen her going rigid under his grip and then he saw her raise her eyes slowly to meet his and what he’d seen there, knocked the breath out of his chest. For the first time in the entire night, he’d seen some change in the way she looked at him, something which he was oddly familiar to. Something he’d seen in Suruchi’s eyes for Aakash…
He’d averted his gaze as he felt a strange feeling coursing through him.
His grip around her loosened and he pulled his hands back, as he tried to focus on something, anything.
Seconds passed, minutes rolled on, and they sat there in the car, not speaking a word with each other. Suddenly the car seemed so suffocating and the emotions running through them too overwhelming. He’d no idea why he felt a rage in him at her words. Why he, who’d known her for not more than few hours, could not take it when she just spoke about her choosing death over separation. While she sat there, hugging her knees, as she stared at him through the corner of her eyes. How odd it was, the man whom she had disliked when she’d first met, has changed in her eyes to something she could not comprehend…
The abhorrence she felt at the man when he first spoke about the reason of his turning down his bride, now has turned into ashes since she now knew that it was all a lie. However, she couldn’t fathom what she felt for him now. Disliking someone was easy, so easy! But this thing, whatever it was… she felt so overwhelmed.
“Don’t you think we both are in a eerily similar situation?” she heard his voice after a long time and looked at him startled.
His sudden statement bought her out of her trance as she looked away too, her mind reacting slowly to the words he spoke. And that somewhere hit her. It was indeed oddly similar. All of it was so…strange. Both of them had reacted similar, and thought similar due to their own past, however, what had kept her thinking was that both of their decisions were simulated by a single reason; to save their respective spouses from the wedding. And hence, she asked him with a racing heart “Who… who told you about your bride being forced into the wedding?”
He seemed to be taken aback by the sudden question however she saw him smile before replying “The bride herself”
And that made her heart beat ease, as the suspicion of a single possibility died before even being born, and she’d felt a tinge of…disappointment.
“The bride herself”
Those words swirled in her mind, and for reasons unknown she felt a sinking feeling.
“Oh” was all she managed to utter and turned away.
He furrowed his eyebrows and opened his mouth to call her, to ask her what’s that which had disturbed her, but he stopped as he heard the sound of someone’s approaching them. They’d looked up only to find a beaming Pradeep.
The sight alone made them forget everything momentarily as they asked him at a time.
“How is your wife?”
“How is the baby?”
Pradeep was taken aback to begin with, however the thought didn’t cross his mind to ask them how they knew. Maybe he was too lost, or too happy to ask so. He felt another smile crept on his lips as he replied. “They are safe”
“Is it a boy or a girl” she asked, and Nihaar looked at her, hearing the enthusiasm in her voice.
“Twins” Pradeep replied now “A boy and a girl”
“Wooh!” Nihaar heard her exclaim loudly before bombarding Pradeep with questions and congratulations in equal measure.
“What are you waiting for? Turn the car and go see them” she said.
“Unnao is just twenty minutes away ma’m. I’ll go back after dropping you”
That sentence alone made her stop her babbling, and she looked at Nihaar for some strange reason.
Just twenty minutes away…
* * *