It was nearly dawn. It was warm, calm and peaceful at the now disused bus stand, where she stood, clutching her bag. Apart from the gentle rustle of tree leaves, the occasional howl of a dog and the sound of a distant motorist, everything around her presented a perfect picture of peace and serenity – a stark contrast to the turmoil raging in the depths of Hamsika’s mind. She checked her watch again – there was still half an hour to go and Anshuman was never early. He had texted that he was on his way and would be there soon.
As she stood there, all kinds of thoughts flooded her mind. She still could hardly believe that she would make such a decision – a decision to shun all those near and dear to her… until she met Anshuman.
She could recollect that day vividly. She met him at a job interview – in days when she had attended many of them, but was never lucky fortunate to land a job. She had done her best to look what she thought “professional” – she had worn a bright yellow and red salwaar kameez which she had taken care to starch and press. She had also applied a little less oil than usual in her hair and had refused to wear the holy flowers or the “kumkum” offered by her mother. She sat at the waiting hall, holding the folder containing her resume and biting her lip, hardly taking her eyes off the ground. That was when she first heard Anshuman’s voice, from beside her.
“Pretty hot here isn’t it? “
She looked up with a start, immediately looked down and nodded absently.
“I guess the A\C is not working. Is this your first time at an interview? “
She just shook her head no. All that had registered of him so far was a tall, thin frame, dressed formally in a blue shirt.
“Well, welcome to the club- this is my fifteenth! I think I know just about all the questions they might ask. I can even guess their expressions, responses to my answers. – ‘Huh, huh, I don’t think so’. ‘Which book did you get that out of?’ ‘Have you been reading 101 interview questions?’ ‘You have got your basics all wrong…’
She could not help smiling. She felt her herself relaxing and the tension reducing by a notch. There were 10 – 12 aspirants ahead of her, awaiting their turn. That left her with a good 20-30 minutes.
“So what have you graduated in? B.Tech or MCA?”
“MCA” she answered.
“Hmmm. So have I. Which University?”
This was followed by a host of other questions regarding her curriculum, her subjects of interest, her final year project and so on. Soon, Hamsika found herself answering as well as posing questions. Time began to move rather fast, as they also discussed all their previous interview experiences.
When her turn eventually came, Hamsika was totally relaxed, and was actually feeling a shade confident.
“All the best. I am sure you will do well” Anshuman said, smiling.
She smiled back and entered the hall. To her surprise, she found herself answering all the questions posed with a confidence she had never experienced before. By the end of the interview, she was sure she would land the job.
Back home, she hardly thought about the interview or her frustration of having attended yet another. Her mind was filled with thoughts of Anshuman, his easy-going and generally positive attitude.
It was really a long time since a young man had spoken to Hamsika for such a long time. While at school, she had distanced herself from all the boys in her class, imagining them to not like her or to make fun of her behind her back. She was from a very traditional middle class family and it had been ingrained into her head, right from the primary school, that her sole aim should be to study hard, making the best use of the money her father was spending on her education. Dressing up well, wearing fancy jewelry and visits to the beauty parlour were highly discouraged. A strict upbringing and the simple ways of her family had ensured that she grew up a soft, obedient girl.
As she progressed to high school, Hamsika turned an introvert. She had a small circle of girl friends, outside of which she refused to move. It did irk her to find that the boys of her class, chose only to speak to the “good – looking” girls, but she kept those thoughts to herself. Being timid and bashful herself, she did not venture to initiate any conversation with the boys. She did get their attention, however, when the results of a class test came out – she was one of the brightest students in class. However, they seemed to remember her only when the exams were round the corner– to borrow her lab record or help them solve a math problem.
At college she grew out of this cocoon of self doubt and started talking to the young men in her class. However, her sense of self worth was too low to fancy that any of them actually liked her. Well, there was a school mate of hers, whom she really liked and always secretly hoped he would accompany her to and from college every day. He seemed to like her too – but both of them, having similar upbringings thought it wrong to take matters further.
Even now, Hamsika doubted whether Anshuman had really liked her. For all she knew, he might have just started the conversation to keep himself occupied until his turn. But he had noticed her and had listened to her and given her his undivided attention. This made her spirits soar and her heart skip many a beat today. She even began secretly hoping that they would meet again and develop a warm friendship – for anything else was out of the question, considering the orthodox ways of her family.
Well, meet him she did – on her first day at work. As fate would have it, both of them landed the job and were also asked to work on the same project! Moreover, he seemed delighted to meet her again too!
What began as casual acquaintance grew into a strong emotional bond – not that either of them were aware of it at the beginning. They began to meet at all tea breaks, lunches and snack breaks – with a group at first and then on their own. Anshuman was an extrovert and was friendly towards a lot of people – but Hamsika was the opposite. She had reservations about a lot of her team mates. She thought the girls considered her proud and haughty and that a lot of the men commented behind her back. Of course, all these assumptions were not wholly unfounded – she had overheard a couple of such conversations and being a very sensitive girl, was hurt deeply.
But Anshuman was different – he always listened to her, sympathized with her and gave her words of encouragement. Be it work pressure or her pushy boss, he was always ready with a suggestion. He also complemented her on her dedication and her sweet nature and had actually said that he had met few girls like her. He openly admired her good qualities and was there by her side when she was in need.
Soon Hamsika found herself withdrawing from the other people she knew – she had created a world of her own- with just Anshuman and herself in it. Her life had fallen into a routine – she would come to office, begin her work, wait for the tea break – then go back to work, wait for the lunch break – and work again till the snacks break. Occasionally, Anshuman would even accompany her home. They always had a lot to talk about –project issues, office politics, world politics, family matters and even personal experiences. For the first time, Hamsika found herself freely discussing everything without any reservations. At home, she did have her mother and elder brother, but she was not very comfortable discussing everything with them. There were also her school and college friends, but slowly, she began losing touch with them as well.
In spite of all this, she would never admit to anyone, not even to herself that she might well be in love with Anshuman. Since adolescence she was thought to believe, that the concept of romantic love is non-existent. She had always been told that there only exists a “natural attraction” towards the opposite sex and that this would never last a life time. But here she was, longing to meet Anshuman every day, speaking with him at night on the phone for an hour, missing him terribly when he took the occasional vacation. Soon, she even started meeting him on the weekends – she always had an excuse ready for her mother –she was going shopping with friends, she was studying for a certification exam and so on. She was also careful to choose the location of their tryst – a place where no one would recognize her.
But a couple, always together, offers an irresistible gossip topic – especially to colleagues at work! Soon, people began asking both of them, whether “anything was brewing” between them. Some people had also assumed that they were a “serious couple” and began asking questions about approval from their respective homes! All these questions irked Hamsika, and she would never respond to them. She also brought up the issue with Anshuman, who merely laughed and asked her not to bother about other people’s opinions and to live her own life.
However, as days went by, Hamsika began to realize that she had been running away from the truth for too long. She increasingly felt restless when Anshuman was not around and when at home, when she did not hear from him for more than one hour. She suspected that Anshuman too felt the same, but never brought up the topic again. However, one Sunday, Anshuman decided to take matters into his hands.
They had gone to a movie theater together. Anshuman had asked her to come half an hour earlier. She was surprised to find him already waiting for her in front of the theater. He seemed somehow different- was it her imagination or had he taken extra care to dress today? Was his perfume really a hint stronger? She decided to ask him about this later – she had other things to discuss today. She had just heard about an elopement in her family – one of her cousins and she was eager to discuss this. They sat down together on a bench and she immediately started narrating her story.
Anshuman, however, hardly spoke and just sat listening to her. When she was done, he asked her – “Do you feel anything different about me today? Do you think I appear nervous?”
Hamsika, surprised by the question, said – “When I come to think of it, yes, you do seem a bit nervous. What’s the matter?”
Anshuman then dug into the bag he was carrying, pulled out a red rose, and offering it to her, said, a little nervously – “Hamsika, will you marry me?”
That was the best day in her life so far. Both of them confessed how deeply they loved each other, how important each was to the other and how, positively,they could not live without each other.
The first experience of a romance is always thrilling to anyone. She recollected, vividly, how she had blushed and her heart had fluttered when he approached her. Their never ending conversations sometimes continued all night. Each morning she awoke, feeling as fresh as a watered flower. She would be impatient to get to work every day and long to be with him.
This elated feeling, however, lasted only about a fortnight or so. Then, doubts started creeping into Hamsika’s mind. She was well past the marriageable age and talks were already on about arranging for her marriage at home. She spent a day, pondering on what to do and how to bring up the topic with her parents. How would she tell them that she loved Anshuman, beyond anything else, and that it was difficult for her to live without him? She felt almost positive that her father would never agree to it. And she was never close to her brother anyway. So she decided to tackle the only person she was rather close to at home – her mother.
It was on Sunday, when post lunch, her mother was resting, reading a novel. Hamsika gathered all her courage, went up to her mother and said – “Ma, there is something I need to tell you.” Looking at her nervousness, her mother put down her book and asked what the matter was.
She had said nervously, “Ma, I think I am in love.”
Her mother said sharply – “With whom? That boy you work with – Anshuman?”
Then her mother told her about how she had her suspicions, how she had wanted to always ask Hamsika about it, but how she had trusted her daughter enough to never actually believe it was true. She went on to admonish her, asking her how she could be so unfeeling as to not respect her parents’ wishes. Her father, having a high blood pressure could well face a stroke upon hearing of this. How could she, being her father’s daughter even imagine such a thing was possible? She had given Hamsika all the freedom possible – she never asked about her friends or never monitored what she actually did outside home. How, then did she have the heart to deceive her so?
After this initial outburst, when she had calmed down a little, she tried to explain to Hamsika all the difficulties she foresaw in this match. She reminded her, how orthodox her father was and that he would never be able to come and stay even a couple of days in the house of a person from a different caste. She also said that the “in love” experience was just a mirage; it would pass after a couple of years. By marrying a boy from a different caste, she was just giving room to more difference- which would anyway crop up after a couple of years. Hamsika would also not be welcome to any religious functions in her family, she said. In fact, she would end up distancing herself from all her relatives and have no one to call her own. How long did she know the boy, anyway? How could she be sure he would support her throughout?
And she went on and on, telling Hamsika that it was really a bad idea and how everything possible was wrong with this match.
Hamsika, was visibly disturbed after this conversation. For the rest of the day, her mother watched her like a hawk – she watched were she went, whether she called anyone or whether she prepared to go out to meet anyone. However, all Hamsika did was lie in her bed and try to prove to herself, that whatever her mother said had no justice in it. She decided not to take Anshuman’s calls that day and texted him, telling him that she had spoken to her mother and requesting him to leave her alone.
The next day, she met Anshuman for lunch, at a place outside their office campus. She explained everything that happened on the previous day to him and how she thought she ought to give the matter a second thought. She had gone to lunch, expecting Anshuman to be understanding and supportive. However, he kept frowning throughout and appeared distracted. He rather surprised her when he asked –“You are not backing out of this, are you? You still love me, don’t you?”
“Of course I do, honey. I just need to give the matter more thought”
“Well, ok… “he had said. But he had not sounded very convinced.
At the peak that she was, of her first romance, at first, all that her mother said seemed old-fashioned and meaningless to Hamsika. Whenever doubts did creep into her mind, she called Anshuman over the phone and assured herself of his love. This is the real thing, she thought to herself- let me just stand up for myself once in my life.
She did bring the topic up once again with her mother, but only got disapproval again. Her mother, however, decided to speak to her father. Eventually, she informed Hamsika that her father was entirely “displeased” with her idea. He had said, Hamsika was told, that boys of her age group did not have enough maturity to make such decisions or even just to face the challenges of everyday life. And that’s why, in her parents’ time, they always made sure that the boy was atleast three years older than the girl. She also handed Hamsika an article to read, which was written by an experienced marriage counselor.
Read it she did, only to find the contents further discouraging. The author had suggested that, there be a minimum difference of five years between the boy and the girl, with the boy being older of course. He had also stated that it was always good for a marriage when both the boy and the girl had similar cultural, religious and lingual backgrounds. To make matters more complicated, he had reiterated the fact that the being “in love” experience lasted only a couple of years, probably until the birth of the first child.
Try as she might to not let all this get her down, Hamsika could not help feeling, deep inside that there could be something what her parents were telling her. If there was one thing that life had taught her, it was that, experience did matter. There were many things at which she was much better at now – writing code, thinking up solutions to problems posed in the project and even simple everyday things like washing, cleaning or getting dressed. She also knew why – they came through practice and yes–experience. So, wouldn’t her parents and the counselor for that matter know better in some matters? After all, they were much older and had probably come across many things – that she had no clue about yet.
As these doubts rose and fogged up her mind – she did the one thing that would bring her solace – she called up Anshuman. As soon as she heard his voice, half these doubts seem to disappear. And as they continued to talk, saying to each other, how much they loved each other and how they could not imagine life without the other – the fog slowly cleared. How could she imagine that her Anshuman, her dear Anshuman would cease to love her? This is it, she decided, he was very much in love with her and would continue to be – towards the very end.
Hamsika spent a lot of time the next few days speaking to Anshuman and reassuring herself of his undying love for her. Doubts did rise in her mind, time and again, but she hardly brought these up with him these days. On the rare occasions she did, he got all emotional and begged and pleaded with her not to leave him – saying repeatedly that she was the only one who understood him and the only one with whom he could share all his troubles. There was no one as affectionate and caring as her in the whole world. There could be no happiness in his life without her. So, she always ended up consoling and reassuring him – while the doubts in her mind still lingered.
She found some solace while talking to another colleague whom she had met while commuting to and from work. This colleague, Pravitha was also into a relationship and was absolutely convinced that her boyfriend was her soulmate. Pravitha urged Hamsika not to give in to the “emotional blackmail” her parents were subjecting her to. She went on to say that her parents were only trying to dissuade her, because Anshuman was her choice and not theirs. She did her best to convince Hamsika to go ahead with her decision and not to back out.
On the following Sunday afternoon, having temporarily stalled her wavering mind, after fresh chats with Anshuman and Pravitha, Hamsika decided to tackle her mother once again. She found her mother unfeeling and unsympathetic to anything she said on the matter. To make matters worse, she insisted that Hamsika speak of this in the presence of her father, when he came home in the evening. This left Hamsika feeling totally nervous and jittery the rest of the afternoon.
Eventually her father came home and her mother summoned her from the comfort of her room. She tried to explain to her father, her feelings for Anshuman and why she thought he was the best match for her. Her father listened impassively to her, waiting for her to finish. When she was done, he took hold of her hand and explained, calmly why he thought the whole thing was a bad idea. He said, he actually knew of many instances, where such marriages broke down. Boys at Hamsika’s age do not actually have maturity, he said, to know what is good or what is bad for them. Boys typically attained such maturity at only around the age of 28. What if this boy, who now claimed to be so much attached to her, decided it was all a bad idea 10 years down the line? Her mother interjected here and added that girls age faster than boys, and it was very well possible for the boy to change his mind a few years later.
This done, they went on to reiterate the differences in their family background and how, it was never possible for them to shun all their relatives and live happily together, by themselves. Such sort of things only happened in movies, they said.
Having said all they needed to say, they said they loved their daughter very much and would only do things that they knew were good for her. Her father then said, he understood her need for emotional support at this age, and had found found a bridegroom for her. He was in all ways the perfect match for her – he had a job with a good salary, was about 4 years older and was a complete tee-totaler.
Hamsika, who was taught from childhood, never to interrupt while her elders were speaking, listened to all this with growing alacrity. When they were about done, she began to weep and in between her sobs told them that they had never understood her feelings, never understood what she really wanted. They only wanted her to do what they wanted, and this time she was not going to give in.
This led to an outburst from her mother, who said that as parents, they would only hope for her good, that they had dedicated their lives for their children alone and how could she be so unfeeling as to say such things? How could she value, some person whom she had only known from the past one year, so much? How could she trust him, and not trust her own parents?
Her father interceded here, and said he had heard enough of this. He was going to call the prospective bridegroom’s parents (his choice, of course) and ask them to visit their home as soon as possible, possibly the next day itself. He went on to add that he always knew best what was right for his daughter, what to do and when to do it.
Hamsika had then gone weeping to her room and shut the door. She decided many things on an impulse. She called Anshuman and explained her predicament. After another round of pleading from him and her reassuring him, they decided on a plan of action. Her parents could do what they liked, she said – they would go on the very next day to a temple which was close to Anshuman’s house and get married with the help of the priest. They would also book a slot at the registar office and register the marriage as soon as possible. When she hung up, she called Pravitha and told her of her plans. Pravitha assured her that she was doing the right thing and should go ahead as planned.
After the calls, Hamsika immediately felt she had been too hasty. As she started thinking about it, several doubts began creeping into her mind. What if there was something in what her parents said? Would she really be happy, after they were married? What if it turned out just as her parents had said? Anshuman would not have the answers to all this – he was hardly a few months older than her- he just did not have enough experience or for that matter, though she hated to admit it – the maturity to even consider these possibilities. What if, after a couple of years, he stopped feeling for her as he right now did? And oh yes, there was also the materialistic angle. They had both been at work for hardly two years – would their savings \ earnings be enough to start out on their own? She knew that they were not likely to get support from either of their families, atleast in the beginning.
She spent a restless night, pondering over all this. At 4.00 am, she got up, dressed and quietly slipped out through their back door. After about ten minutes walk, she reached the bus stop. Her mind however, was far from clear. Indeed, it kept swinging back and forth, unable to come to a decision. In calm and quiet offered by the morning, she decided to think things over, once again.
Her phone beeped – it was a text message from Anshuman – “Almost there”. As she heard his bike approach, she saw the faint glimmer of the fast approaching dawn. She stood up, with a new found determination – she had reached her decision.
She would not let her family down, no – nothing was worth that. But she would not give up on Anshuman either. She would marry him, but only after she obtained her parents’ approval – however long it took..