“In the loving memory of my departed soul, the child of winter & darkness; with fond remembrance… May you rest in peace”.

Book I: AVINASH

The lazy afternoon sun blazed its way through the broken window pane, the branches of the mango tree shattering its rays into thousand shafted arrows. As I got up to draw back the curtains, the newspaper fluttered under the drowsing wind of the ceiling fan, as if mocking my passive apathy. The Invitation Card that I have so surreptitiously hid between the pages fell on the cold floor beside the rotting wooden table. Dark blue hues with golden ceremonial borders stared back at me, daring me to caress the letters once again.

It has been a long day. The card arrived by the morning post, declaring itself with a decorated sky blue parcel. I laughed hysterically at myself as I remembered my eager, trembling fingers tearing through the fancy packaging, only to find the wedding invitation of my beloved (now my ex-wife), peeping through a stack of letters that has been wearied down at the corners, returned to the author with all the ardour of fallen love. Cruelty is the latest fashion that has taken the bazaar of love by storm.

The haze was passing me by now. Soon it would be time for the conscious mind to wake up from its numb slumber. Numb is good; especially when the frailty of the mind threatens to overtake the relentless march of poignant reality. It’s kind of funny how the smoke clears the cobwebs in our cluttered brain. I could see her clearly now standing right beneath the shade of that mango tree in that flowered skirt, smiling and waving at me, her eyes resonating with the fleeting moments of my dreams as I waved back. The memory was of another era.

The lost chapters

The summer we met was one of the hottest years of my life, sizzling with the promises of young, incandescent love. I was in my sophomore year in one of the largest universities of India and life was beginning to give me a taste of that alluring freedom, which was irresistibly appetizing in its delusional chimera. Carefree and reckless as a young horse, all I wanted was to seek out life in its myriad flavours.

During the evening we used to take long boat rides along the Ghats or walk down to the Birla temple in the campus. The temple in part was also a hangout for all students and it was there where I saw her for the first time – in a long flowery skirt and short auburn hair. A cute, pert nose and a less-than-average height, she looked like a pixie frolicking in the afternoon sun – the kind of beauty that grows on you with time.

The next week I saw her again in the market with her friends and suddenly, for no reason at all, I realized I had to go and talk to her. Easier said than done, ‘cause in this country if you’re a guy approaching an unknown girl, your intentions will always be misread. I decided to use the oldest trick in the book, but by the time I looked around for her, she had vanished.

I waited. Somehow I believed it was destined that we would cross paths again. And then one day just as I was trying to park my bike in front of the temple, Samar tapped me on the shoulder and pointed towards the numerous cafes dotting the outskirts of the temple gate. ‘Look over there’, he said. She was coming out of one of the cafes, leaving by the look of it. This time I was prepared not to lose sight of her again. I turned to Samar and without giving him any reason, asked him to wait for me while I chased after her.

“Excuse me.” The girl who turned around had the most incredibly impish look in her face, as if questioning me on my audacity to stop her in the middle of the road. The cat is about to pounce on me, I thought and smiled brazenly. She softened a bit, but what I wanted was her to purr for me and this wouldn’t do at all. So I started talking and within a few minutes I succeeded in coaxing her to give me her private number. I’ve always been a glib talker and girls had always been my forte.

That evening we chatted for almost an hour over the phone, before I realized I got a problem. She had a boyfriend. I called Samar in my room, closed the door and gave him a pack of cigarettes. “Your friend is in love, what are you gonna do about it?” I asked. He calmly lighted a cigarette and over a bottle of Old Monk, we had a discussion that night, which went on till the wee hours of the morning. He was the closest friend I had, so the next day I simply went ahead with his advice, of being “just friends” for the time being.

The vacations started a week after that. As we headed to our respective home, I realized it would give me a much needed break to clear my head and get a dose of reality. Perhaps it would also help me understand the confused array of emotions that I was feeling for her. Understand I did, though not necessarily in a way that made me feel any better. She kept on popping at all odd hours, in my thoughts and sometimes unconsciously, even in my conversations.

As days turned to weeks, one day I simply dialled her home number and asked for her. Those were the days before the internet and the smart-phone invasion happened, and voice call over the telephone was considered a much faster medium to reach someone miles away. It was a husky male voice that answered so I assumed it was her father. As seconds ticked by, I waited to hear that twinkling voice cut through my heart and pierce my soul, hoping that I did not brew any trouble for her and dreading that probably she won’t answer the phone at all. And when the music hit me, I was enlightened – in love.

The first day of the next term started with a bang. She was travelling back with one of her seniors and had asked me to meet them at the station. Without asking permission of either party, I took Samar with me on a double date and ended up convincing them for a “Night Out”.

In the college lexicon a Night Out can mean anything, from having an all night party to taking the party outside the hostels without informing the warden, which was forbidden. At approximately 10 pm that night, we found our self completely drunk and booked two rooms in a cheap hotel. Though our initial plan didn’t involve sleeping with the girls, somehow Samar & I ended up entering two different rooms.

No, in case you guys are guessing, we didn’t sleep together that night. We chatted; though at one point the air was so thick with tension that I blurted out whether I could kiss her, but she refused and that was all there was to it.

The morning after was embarrassing for both of us and somehow we ended up quarrelling before we parted, swearing never to call up each other again. The reason? I fucking proposed her. Sometimes, these girls could make you wish that you were born with a protective helmet around your head that would shield you from their incessant craziness.

Well anyway, to cut a long story short, it was quite a few days before we were on talking terms again. I called her up one day and we simply started talking like before – no question asked on either side.

It took three months for her to finally purr for me and three more years for us to ask ourselves, what next. College was about to end and I had already made plans to start my own business. On Valentine day that year, I made a huge red silk banner that said, “Will you marry me?” and got it delivered to her room at night by bribing the watchman. That summer we got married in Samar’s farm-house in Gurgaon.

I never knew Samar also loved her as much.

Book II: SAMAR

It should hit 93, I thought as I looked at all the three screens rolling with numbers. It has been an exhausting day and I have booked yet another record loss in the company history. I wonder they haven’t asked me to resign yet. I looked at my watch and realized I can still grab dinner if I wanted to, when suddenly my phone buzzed. Pratibha was calling. I should have probably ignored the call, but thinking it was weird of her to call at this hour, I picked it up.

By the way, Pratibha is my fiancé and we are supposed to get married by the end of the month. She is the daughter of a family friend and it was all arranged in a bit of a hurry by my elder sister three months back. I couldn’t say no, because I was still not entirely sure of Aditi. To be honest, I was never sure of Aditi.

The Fleeting Moments

I met Avinash on the first day of my freshman year, as we were bending over our knees in our knickers during a ragging session. He saved my ass from getting kicked that night and we became close buddies after that. Avi, as he was called by the girls, was the cool dude of our group, the joker, the ringmaster, the infamous womanizer. He liked flaunting that, never sticking to a girl for more than a few months. No one was good enough for him, it seems; No one except Aditi.

Only somehow I felt I was cheated. That day when I first saw her in front of the temple, I never suspected she was the same girl he talked to me about, the other night. It was the biggest mistake of my life to point her out to him, because in my heart I knew that he really did not deserve her. As I watched their relationship gradually making it to the next level, I tried diverting myself with her friend, Smita, and with time, kind of grew fond of her.

After their marriage, I tried to distance myself from the duo, but couldn’t help noticing those frantic phone calls, those blurry eyes and the increasingly violent conversation that their relationship was turning all about. After about two years of their marriage, I met them one day over a Sunday brunch. Avinash was his usual careless self, immersed in his work, too busy to join for a conversation. His business was booming and success has gone to his head. Aditi, on the other hand, was just a haunting shadow of her former self.

Over a cup of coffee she spilled the beans, their marriage was on the rock, it seems – they were probably heading towards a divorce. My own relationship with Smita was in a turmoil and it has been many years since I had felt any real emotion for Aditi, but right then hearing the news, something tightened inside me like a knot.

Over the next few weeks, I met Aditi quite frequently in the small cafes of Bandra. It was always a harmless and friendly conversation over a pint of beer. Did I tell Smita? No, it didn’t seem right then; and I can’t give any justification for that. As for Aditi’s part, I never asked.

And then one day it happened. We were leaving the cafe when it started raining heavily. I was searching frantically for a cab when I turned around and saw her standing in the middle of the road, immersed in her own world. I couldn’t help but wrap her in my arms and kiss her then and there, and while we stood there, absolutely lost to the honking cars and the barrage of profanities that were being hurled towards us, I realized I needed to make her mine.

For the next few months, everything passed in a daze. Aditi moved out of Samar’s place and we decided to change cities. It was not long before she got her divorce and I left Smita for good. I never explained anything to Smita; I couldn’t find any words that could make her understand why I had to take the step.

In the meanwhile, friendships were lost, camps were formed and many an associate from college refused to acknowledge us being together. I decided to cut off from the world and live my own dreams, sharing my world with her. I left my job and tried my luck in a completely different profile, something that I had always been interested in doing – trading.

The next logical step would have been to get married but Aditi was a bit reluctant, being just fresh out of a failed relationship, and I didn’t want to press her further just then. So instead we started living together as a couple. Aditi got a job and we even bought a puppy to make the family complete.

Initially it was a bit of a success; my job was a hit, Aditi was warming up to the idea of staying with me for the rest of our lives while the dog added an extra dimension of fun to our weekends. But then suddenly, something would happen and she would blow up for no reason at all. At first I thought it was me and I tried adjusting my ways to make her happy.

I tried for three years, pulling her back several times from the brink of yet another failed relationship and then suddenly I realized she was beyond me. I might love her but won’t ever be able to live a peaceful life with her. Happily for me, I never had to explain any of that to her. One day, she woke up and told me what she thinks I think about us; she did have this uncanny habit of reading my mind; or maybe I was too transparent. In reply, I told her I have been feeling confused a bit lately and probably it would be a good idea to give each other some space for the time being. Any which ways, she understood somehow and the very next day she packed her bags and left.

I’d never called her up since then, though I did pick up the phone several times to make the call. If only she would understand.

Book III: ADITI

Tomorrow I’m going to get married – for a second time; as if once was not enough; as if it did not suffice to be punished once for the same crime. I write like I don’t have an option, well I don’t. This is a country where a single woman of a certain age is bound to raise eyebrows and that gets a tad bit uncomfortable for her parents.

I’m still considered young and of a marriageable age by society at large, so here I’m being packed & shipped off to one of the less illustrious business family of our city. I’d cried the entire time last night, though I really can’t say for whom or what. I was checking my mails, deleting all communications from Samar, all photos and videos of our three years’ hitch. The day before that I’d been sorting out all the old letters, photos and gifts from my previous marriage and posted them back to Avinash, along with my Marriage Invitation card.

Avi was the best thing that happened to me; and probably still is, for a long time to come. But I never realized what hit us – perhaps it was his business, perhaps it was my temper, perhaps it was a part of growing up. All I remember of the five years I spent with him is the way he would try to make me smile for no reason at all. I don’t really do regrets but probably if I got a chance to relive it, I would do it differently.

I know it was cruel of me to send the Invitation card to him but somehow I felt it was a ritual needed to cleanse my system of my past. After all, the old bastards never gave two hoot ‘bout me when they had the chance. It was always a selfish world, so why should I be any different?

If I had to make an honest review of myself, I would still think of retracting that statement I made above, but just for Avinash’s sake. Not that Samar betrayed me or anything, but he never really cared about what happened to us. It was a dream that I was asked to join in, but which was never mine in the true sense of the word. It was all his – his world, his dreams, his expectations; and when he saw the imperfections and realized it was because of me, I was coolly asked to leave.

There is a reason why I’m writing it all down here; so that ten years down the line if I meet both of them in the streets, or in a restaurant or at the airport, I would remember whom to avoid and whom to greet. I do have very short memory span and little details tend to miss my attention but at least I would like to preserve my overall sentiments till the day I die – as a memoir of a life that has passed me by.

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DISCLAIMER:

This piece of fiction has been written in reply to the DP challenge, “Leave your shoes at the door“. I have taken real life inspiration for the characters, giving three different narratives for the same story. Have also tried changing the style of Narration for each character, to portray a sense of individuality. Of course, I had to stray wildly from the original account, in order to keep the identity of the characters intact.

I have been developing the initial paragraphs of this story for quite a while now, so when this challenge came along I thought of modifying it and using it as the starting base for what I had in mind. Good thing I did it it ’cause otherwise I dun think I would have ever finished it.