In another twenty minutes, we were seated in the aeroplane. Since we booked tickets in the last minute, the six of our seat were scattered across the aircraft. It was 2 hours travel. My mind did not search for him, but my eyes did. Rajiv was never found in the front. I did not turn back. The seat beside me was still empty. I checked my phone.
We had a demo on safety measure and were requested to turn our phones off. Seat beside me was still desolated. I was not sure whether Rajiv has got into the plane.
I started browsing through the magazines that were placed. My attention was diverted from the magazine by the dulcet sound of bangles. I turned in a reflex and saw a beautiful woman in her early twenties, nearing my seat. She sat beside me , busily texting someone. She tuned towards me and I could not suppress a smile. She was gorgeous.
“Hi”, she extended her hand.
“Hi”, I managed to smile back.
“I am Jiah Sheriff”.
“Harini”, I nodded my head.
We smiled at each other and turned to continue with our own things. I could feel the vibration of her mobile ,inside her hand bag . She was cheerfully looking around the flight and kept checking her watch, as if she wanted to flight to depart soon, ignoring the strong vibration.
“Your mobile”, I pointed to her hand bag.
“Oops, Sorry.”, she smiled and searched for her mobile. It was a small bag and she took more than a minute to locate her mobile, which was vibrating hard. She did find her mobile and answered the call.
“Sure dear. Just 2 hours. But it is seeming like ages for me. I can’t wait”, she spoke in a low, mellifluous voice.
I shrugged my shoulders and continued to read. The Air Hostess came close by ,with a bright red lipstick and a high look hair-do.
“Madam, I am sorry. I kindly request you to switch off your phone as the flight would take off in another few minutes.”, she smiled.
“Sure”, Jiah replied.
“Thank you”, the Air hostess smiled again and left.
Jiah fumbled and dropped her phone in an attempt to turn it off. She appeared frenetic, which seemed queer for me. She managed to turn off her mobile and looked at me.
“Sorry”, she apologized to me, which made no sense.
“No problem.”, I turned to look at the window, acknowledging the irrelevant apology.
“I am meeting my Husband after 4 years”, she smiled. Her voice startled me and I turned towards her.
I was sure she is trying to build a conversation with me.
“Oh, I see!” I replied and I thought I should reciprocate to her.
“Where is he? In Ernakulum,or nearby?” , I asked in return.
She looked overjoyed. There was nothing in my question to make her feel joyous. Probably, the topic, I guessed.
“He is in Ernakulum. He is employed there.”, she smiled.
“That is great to hear. Have a wonderful time.”, I smiled at her.
“So how about you?”, it was her turn to question me.
“ I am from Chennai. We are going on a trip“, I managed to smile.
By the time we commenced our conversation, the flight had started. I looked back to check on Deepthi. She caught my gaze and waved. I waved back and smiled. I scanned through the aircraft to check for Hema. She was busily talking to her co-passenger.
“He is there”, Jiah pointed to Rajiv , who was sitting three rows in front.
“How do you know him, by the way,I was not looking for him.”, I replied in a stern tone, trying to justify something which was of no use.
“Oh, I am so sorry. Right from the moment I came in, he was constantly checking on you. So I really thought you must be ….”, Jiah dragged.
Was he checking on me? But did that matter? Didn’t I decide to treat him just like a fellow voyager?
“This is how my husband kept checking on me, when we were travelling back from Honeymoon.”, Jiah continued amidst my train of thoughts.
I turned and looked at her.
“Yes”, she smiled.” We got married four years back. I had just passed out of twelfth. I had passed out with flying colors. I had my IITJEE Score card ready for IIT Kanpur. It was when the wedding news came in as a huge blow. My parents did not want me to study. They wanted me to get married. I was extremely disappointed with the idea, that I did not bother to look at his photo and when I looked at him in person, I was totally shattered. His looks did not impress me. I was 18 and Sheriff was 28. I felt my dreams were crumbled. I made a bold decision and spoke to him about my aim on the wedding night. He understood me completely. I requested him to co-operate so that I flew to Kanpur the next morning.”
” But he did not let me, rather, he asked me to accompany him for our Honeymoon and once it was over, he promised that he will help me. I was completely disappointed. Why does he need to take advantage of the wedding that has happened? What would he do to me? I wondered. To my surprise, he took me to Kanpur , and not to Munnar where our actual honeymoon was planned.
He made sure my hostel was fine and all admission procedures were fine. He helped me to find nearby shops for basic and urgent needs and we left for home. He convinced both the parents and I was in Kanpur studying and he was busy with his works. I did not bother to thank him too. As days rolled by, I did realize what kind of an astounding support he was to me. We nurtured love in our hearts without meeting each other. He told a yes for all that I told, my conditions, without posing a single condition or question back.
I did not even ask him how he felt about it. He just smiled throughout. He is a great human, beyond that he floored me with his unconditional love. I got placed in a famous private bank. I did not accept the offer. I have a degree, I thought It is time to begin my life with him. I will find a job there, I told myself. That is why I am heading back to Ernakulum after visiting both the parents in Chennai.” she narrated her beautiful story.
I had nothing to reply, except for a broad smile. As she narrated my mind did imagine about Sheriff,tall, well built fair person, I assumed. Assumptions are dangerous. I could not crumble my temptation.
“Do you have his photograph?”, I asked.
“Of course.”, her excitement raising triple folds. It was taken during our wedding. She handed over a relatively old photograph, after raiding her little hand bag.
I was shocked to see the photo. I saw a young woman in a bright red Pheran, with long loose sleeves decorated with brocade , face covered with floral strings, that hung from her head. She had worn a beautiful Jhoomar which was exquisitely decorated. As my eyes shifted to the Bride groom beside, I saw a man dressed in Sherwani supporting his right limb with a hand stick that was exclusively designed for differently able.
I turned towards her and pointed to the photo, not knowing what to utter.
“Yes, Polio attack. Right from his very small age.”, she nodded.
“You look wonderful “, I complimented.
“Thank you, Harini. And you know what? I am having butterflies in my stomach. I am meeting him after four solid years.”, she pressed her hands together as if they were cold.
I smiled at her. By that our conversation came to an end, we had reached the Ernakulum airport. We descended and collected our baggages. I introduced Jiah to Deepthi and Hema.
As we walked out, I saw the same man whom I saw minutes ago in the photograph. Jiah ran towards him. Her excitement knew no bounds. I was sure she had tears. I looked at him , amazed. I smiled to myself. As he slowly moved, before I could shift my gaze, in the same frame of vision, in which I saw Sheriff, I saw Rajiv, busily tucking a paper into his pocket. Jiah’s words ran through my mind.
He told a yes for all that I told, my conditions, without posing a single condition or question back. I did not even ask him how he felt about it. He just smiled throughout.
It held good for Rajiv, too. Hadn’t I relaized this before? I asked myself.
Deepthi’s voice startled me. She was pulling me by my arm hard. I shook my head as if I was back to my senses. I turned and she pulled me , so that we caught up with Rahul , his bro and Rajiv.
We headed towards our resort to kick start our trip.
“Yes, the oldest. But you know what? They look so cool together.”, I heard Deepthi talking to Hema as she brushed her hair.
I just came from a fresh and soothing bath.
“Oldest?”, I asked.
“Yes, an interesting couple. Saw them in the morning.” , Deepthi replied.
“Hmm!”, I answered.
We had a perfect itinerary for the day. We had planned to visit Tea plantations , Mattupetty dam and Anaimudi peak.
The resort we stayed had individual cottages separated by rocky formations, wet and green with moss and lichens and the numerous orchids and wild plants.
As I walked carefully through the wet rocks, I found that the guys were locking their room and were ready for breakfast. Rajiv ran his fingers through his gelled hair strands. He wore a grey hoodie jacket matching the color of the sky above.
“Ahem!”, Hema cleared her throat. Deepthi nudged me in my waist.
“Ouch!”, I shouted in pain. Rajiv turned in a reflex. We were just few yards away. I could tell that he directly looked me into my eyes. I adjusted the hair that fell on my face and turned towards my right, skipping his gaze.
Deepthi and Hema made sure we ate in separate table to avoid any embarrassment for me.
As I completed a bowl of cereal, I got up to get some fresh fruits. Deepthi signalled to bring an Aloo Paratha for her.
I collected an orange for me. I was tempted at the site of the Grape juice that was placed. I grabbed a glass and tried to fetch a plate for getting the Paratha. As I stretched my arm to grab a plate, Orange slipped through my fingers. There were a set of crockery items neatly arranged. The dropped orange is going to create a menace, I thought. I panicked. As I tried to close my eyes and ears in panick, I saw a graceful hand catching the orange.
Rajiv got the plate from my hand and placed the orange back.
“How are you, Harini?”, he asked, meeting my eyes directly.
His eyes showed love, enormous love. ‘ Why did you abandon me?’ , I could hear his eyes speaking to me.
I seized the plate off him and tried to turn, while I heard him say, “Do not let good things go off your hands.”, he paused. I felt blood rushing my face. I swallowed hard. “I meant the orange. Its good and fresh.”, he smiled and walked away easily, though both of us knew what he meant.
After our breakfast, we were waiting for the shiny Ertiga to arrive. I was waiting at the reception, while Deepthi and Hema went back to our cottage as Hema forgot her wallet.
I saw the three guys standing near the gate peeping impatiently, for the car to arrive.
My attention was caught by the old couple who were checking something in the reception. Deepthi should have mentioned about them in the morning, I thought. Deepthi and Hema joined me. As we were about to leave, the elderly lady called us.
“Excuse me, young girls!”, her voice stopped us.
“Hi, I am Mrs. Sreeja. I heard from reception that you are a bunch of young people having a good itinerary. The receptionist gave us the sightseeing options, but can you help us with what we can cover? “, she requested.
They made a wonderful couple. The elderly man , her husband looked majestic. They should have a glorious past, I thought. Hema explained about the itinerary we had.
“But, Aunty, I am really not sure if you would feel comfortable in all these places as these are high in altitude. It might cause breathing difficulties.”
“Thank you for the details, my child. Yes, I know about the altitude problem. My Husband was an athlete. He was a great Hiker. He loves Mountains. He is now undergoing dialysis and counting his days. I just thought I will take him to a trip which can revive him of all his young and energetic days.”, she smiled.
We never knew how to react. We felt sad.
“You must be a great person.”, Deepthi complimented.
“No, Not all. At least, when compared to him. At our early love life, he had every reason to leave me behind and chase his dream. He did not. He chose to stay with me when he had every reason to leave. I am just showing one in tenth of the love and care he bestowed on me. As he says every time, ’ Love is not about loving a person when they can give you all that you need. Love is actually to love a person, even after knowing they can never give you what you need. There is no such thing called Unconditional Love or conditional Love. All love must be unconditional. A feeling when bound to condition cannot be called love. When the love itself or something in it breaks, we have to fix it, and not throw It.’”, she smiled at us.
We froze in shock.
“Wow!”, Hema exclaimed. “If I fall in love, it has to be such a love”, she continued.
Sreeja’s words ran through my mind.
When the love itself or something in it breaks, we have to fix it, and not throw It.
Did I fix mine? No. I threw it. Along with the love I crushed his heart too. Ertiga’s honk brought my mind to the present. We boarded to begin our first day in Munnar.
We had a wonderful time throughout our journey. We sang, played Dumb-charades, Truth or dare and had lots of fun. The places were resplendent, with various shades of glorious greens. Rightly called the ‘God’s own country’, I thought. We took snaps to capture the dazzling beauty of nature forever in our cameras.
If it was a group Photo, Rajiv and I made it a point to take the extreme ends. Crazy selfies, pleasant pictures and joyous faces filled our cameras.
It was almost ten, when we returned to our resort after our dinner.
“Be ready at 8 A.M, we will be heading to Idukki National park”, announced the driver as we hopped out.
We had a good talk and retired.
I yawned and arched my body and forced myself to sit up on the bed, when my sleep was disturbed by series of knocks. I rushed to the door. I saw Rahul standing there. The sky was bright. I could not believe it was the next morning.
“Aren’t you girls ready?”, he asked in surprise.
I turned back. Hema and Deepthi were fast asleep.
“Oh my God.”, I exclaimed.
“It is already seven.”, he showed his watch.
“Sorry, Rahul. We will be there in another half hour.”, I convinced him and rushed to the washroom.
We managed to get ready by 8.30 AM. We completed breakfast at 9.
“Sorry Anna”, I saw Rajiv talking to the driver.
“Enikkaṟiyilla; sthalaṁ aṭaccu eṅkil iṭū ud’dhēśiccateṅkil” (I don’t know. If the place is closed, I am not responsible) , the driver was warning us in the native language.
Ertiga’s engine came to life to take us to Idukki National Park.
It was 11 AM , when we reached the national park. It was a natural habitat of Nilgiri Tahr and we were all excited about the visit. The green mountain, which had streams that gushes down, looked like an emerald pot which had molten silver lava overflowing. Since it was the habitat of the mountain goat, the entire mountain was preserved as the Natural Park.
It was a must to avail the buses arranged by the park, for climbing the hill.
We got the entry tickets. A fully loaded bus departed just a few seconds before we reached the boarding point.
We saw another bus nearing. We hopped in. Hema was eager in capturing the goat, if at all it appeared and the greenery around. She took the window seat. I sat beside.
Deepthi and Rahul sat together while Rahul’s brother and Rajiv sat to my side. Rajiv and I were just a foot away. I turned to look at him, while he was busily prying into a digital camera.
“I just completed one ride! You want to ascend and descend again?” , the bus driver who stood near the window, snapped the office personnel, in the regional language.
“What do you want me to do, when we run out of drivers?”, the office personnel snubbed back.
“You think so many times before paying a penny. When it comes to work, you never think twice. If we are available we have to take it up”, the fight was getting bigger.
A guy in his khaki uniform came over and spoke something in subtle voice. The driver immediately got into the bus, furious.
He ignited the engine. The bus started moving. His driving reflected his mood. He drove rash. We almost lost the balance in a rock bump.
“Excuse me. Don’t kill us.” one of the passengers from behind warned him.
With every hair pin bend we almost lost balance. His driving got worse as we climbed up. His turns were sharp. After few minutes of the travel, we were all terrified.
“If you are going to do this, I am going to complain to your officer.” Rahul’s furious voice came from behind.
“And before we complain, we have to stay alive. Sit down. I wish we could just reach safe.”, Deepthi pulled Rahul’s arm.
“It is just 11.20 A.M. This is the fourth trip I am taking from morning. You cannot expect me to be soft and humble.” The driver replied.
“You cannot shout at us Sir. Please stay calm. We are just passengers. Do not risk our lives”, a guy in the front replied.
“If you want me to stay calm, you can come and drive.”, he threw his arms in the air.
I panicked as there was no one at the steering. It was ghat road. It required extra care. We cannot afford to fight or argue, I thought. Even in the parky climate outside, my lips went dry.
“Careful with the steering”, few of the spooked passenger clamored.
His hands landed on the steering with a thud.
He wielded elephantine pressure on the steering. The bus took a very sharp and headlong turn. There was a sudden squeal from a passenger.
“There is a huge rock, you can’t turn that way”, another passenger yelled.
I sat there holding on to the handle hard. I felt my head spin.
He turned the steering in the opposite direction. The bus was completely out of the driver’s control.
The bus was precarious. It skidded heavily and tumbled on one side. The side I was sitting on hit a rock and the sudden collision caused the other end of the bus to rise in air. The bus still moved forward and we were sure the bus would swoop down the mountain. The bus hit a huge tree and came to a halt. I banged my head hard against the steel handle which I held tight.
“Out, out quick”, I heard noises around.
“Come out the bus soon, it might lose its balance and fall”, Rajiv shouted at us. The twenty passengers started evacuating in reflex. As I raised my arm to catch hold of a grip to move out, I slipped and when my legs were about to dangle free off the window pane, “Harini, No…. “, I heard Rajiv’s voice. He held my hand tight. I closed my eyes tight in panic.
I was panting. I looked down just to see that entire body was inside the bus.
I looked around. I could not find Deppthi and Hema. I assumed they were out and safe.
My body weight pulled Rajiv down. He hit his forehead hard against the rusted screw of the bus. He was bleeding.
“You are bleeding”, I cried. Tears fell through the corner of my eyes.
“That is ok. You are dying.” , he had tears too. “I will not let you go! I need you Harini. I love you. I will not let you go. Hold my hands. Come to me!!”, he shouted.
He could sense that I would fall any time. To stop my body weight bringing us further down, he crawled on his chest and wrapped a steel rod, with his foot that supported the seat. With the pressure his foot exerted on the steel rod, he swiftly brought me up. I crawled and held Deepthi’s hand to jump out. The pain on his ankle was excruciating. We were able to visualize it. His legs lost the balance and before he could roll over, two guys caught his hands and took him out of the bus.
In a matter of seconds, we saw the bus roll over and vanish into the deep valley.
I returned to resort with throbbing head, bruised arms, hurt limbs and terrified memories. We saw the bus tumble over right under our nose. It was such a close experience with death. It was just a stone away. I could still not believe what had happened. It was lingering in my mind like a dreadful dream.
Hema had few bruises in her hand, while Deepthi survived the bus wreck with no hurt.
I sat on the resort bed, cross legged. The pain in my hands and forehead slowly started reducing. We had a cup of steaming coffee.
My throbbing head felt better. The bus wreck never got out of my mind. I sat there, staring at the coffee table, holding the coffee mug.
Jiah, the elderly couple, above all the bus incident, right from the very beginning of the trip, there was at least one instance to make me realize the Love Rajiv had for me.
Jiah’s words lingered in my mind. Rajiv did the same. Did I even realize how hard it was for him? Did I bother to ask him if he was okay with it? He needed me, my Love and hence he smiled and accepted everything that came his way. Before he could impress me, he worked so hard to impress my mom. He did all those for me. I initially ignored his struggles to win my heart. I finally ignored his love completely, didn’t I?
Sreeja Aunty’s words echoed in my brain. Rajiv’s love was unconditional. I did not realize it then.
I will not let you go! I need you Harini. I love you. I will not let you go. Hold my hands. Hold them tight.
Finally, I heard Rajiv’s voice in my mind, when he held my hands tight.
“Don’t sit in the cold for a long time. The chillness will aggravate the pain.”, Hema ‘s voice broke my chain of thoughts. I rose from the chair to walk into the room.
“Where is Deepthi?”, I asked.
“She has gone to meet Rahul. They have gone for a walk.”
I was silent.
“I feel like talking to Rajiv.”, I spoke after two minutes.
“Do you want to call him to our room?”
“No no. I will go there”
“He saved my life today. I owe a thank you, at the least”
“Hmm. Sure. Take care. Here, have this umbrella. Be careful. The rocks are wet. Make sure to catch the step railings and walk to his room.” her concern reflected in her voice.
As I neared his room, I saw Rahul on the way.
“Hi, how are you feeling now?” He asked me.
“Better”, I tried to smile. “Is Rajiv in there?”, I asked.
“Yes, yes. He was terribly upset over a broken relationship. He is not opening anything about it. I brought him to this trip, just with a thought that he might feel better. I did not expect this to happen.” Rahul let out a sigh.
Rajiv had never told them that I was one? I was shocked.
“Hey, ok, I am leaving, take care. Get well soon”, Rahul left.
The sky was slowly getting darker. I walked towards their cottage. My heart beat faster as I neared the cottage. What would I tell him? Where will I start? Am I here just for thanking him? Numerous things were running in my mind.
I found the cottage door partially open. I knocked it.
“May I know who is that?”, he called from inside.
“Harini”, I replied.
There was no answer. I had butterflies in my tummy. I felt blood rushing to my face.
“Do I really need to invite someone inside my room, who had already conquered my heart and occupied it fully?”
He neared the door to usher me in. the accident had left him with a pronounced limp. I looked at him, directly into his eyes; his broad eyes, which did not show anything other than love; invincible love.
He slowly rested on the bed, so that he could place his leg comfortably. He had a cloth wound around his ankle. His forehead had a Band-Aid, caging cotton inside, where he hit against the rusted nail. He looked miserable. He risked his life for me.
“I am so sorry, Rajiv.”
“For?”, he smiled.
“Everything; All of the torment, you are in, physically and mentally, is just because of me.”
“That’s ok. Nothing is worse than losing a mother – twice.” , he smiled in agony.
The words hit me harsh.
“You did not tell your friends, that I was the one who ditched you?”
“Be careful with your words; it is not ditch, you can call it leaving behind.” He paused. “Also, I do not want anybody to look at you in a way which would embarrass you. They might have looked at you differently, which I tried to avoid.”
“Don’t be kind to me.”
“I thought you came in to speak to me. If you are here to abuse yourself, you can do it alone.”
The next few moments passed in utter silence, except for the humming of the bumble bees and chirping of the crickets.
“It is excruciating”, he broke the silence.
“Your leg?”, I asked and reached to his ankle.
“No, here.” He pointed to his chest. I knew he meant his heart.
I looked at him blank. I shouldn’t have left him, I thought.
“Harini, I missed you so much.” he spoke looking at me.
“Rajiv, Sorry for leaving your calls unanswered. I thought it would just aggravate your pain. To be honest, aggravate our pain of missing each other.” I replied.
“Love and pain, both are unconditional. When you are with me, it is unconditional love. When you are not with me, it is just unconditional pain. Not that if you answer my call, the pain will aggravate and if you don’t it will mitigate. It is not just the phone call that will make me remember you. You are inscribed into every cell of my body. Every single breathe reminds me of you. If at all I have to forget you, I should just stop…” and before he could continue, I stopped him. “Rajiv, please. Please don’t tell that.”
“I’m sorry”, he replied, eyes reddened, as tears rushed in. They were moist. I could not hold back my tears as I saw his’.
He swallowed hard, as if he swallowed his grief and tears too. He looked at me.
“Sorry, just got too emotional.” He took a deep breath.
I slowly reached to touch the Band-Aid in his forehead. My fingers touched his forehead too.
He looked directly into my eyes and I closed my eyes slowly to feel the warmth of his skin in my finger tips and the sound of swishing of leaves. He slowly grabbed my arm and placed it on his. I tried to pull back, while he pressed my hands hard, to keep them intact, within his.
He came close to me, his face just few inches away. He slowly cupped my face in his hands.
“Harini, Life is difficult without you; in fact, very difficult. Come back to me. I will love you like never before. I want those eyes to look at me, just at me, with love, loads of love.”
My eyeballs moved rapidly looking at his left and right eye alternatively. The pain of missing me was evident in his eyes. I had hurt him badly. But how would I really console him? Back home, my engagement talks would have already been up.
“Harini”, his low husky voice broke my chain of thoughts.
I just looked at him, without any answer. He slowly loosened his grip on my face and his hands fell on my shoulders.
Like those branches out there, which were caught by the spell of the perennail breeze and danced to its tune, I could feel myself getting caught in Rajiv’s spell, his touches of love.
“Harini, I love you. I promise we will fix everything. Why don’t you come back to me?” , his eyes were moist.
I have made him suffer a lot. What would I answer?
“Harini, I love you”, he repeated.
He gently rubbed my scruff. The whooshing of the cold breeze and his fingertips sent wild shivers down through my spine.
“I love you, Harini”, he repeated and came further close to me. With our lips, just few inches away, chin almost touching, he slowly closed his eyes and tried to reduce the distance between our lips.
I closed my eyes tight. Where this is going, I asked myself. What am I doing? I have done enough to Rajiv. I cannot make him live with false hopes. I need to let him know the reality. I cannot do this to him. I shook my head as if I suddenly got back to senses.
I placed a hand on his chest and moved back. He looked shock at my sudden movement. I was still shaking my head.
“I am sorry, If I had behaved worse.” he apologized.
Tears rolled down my cheeks.
“You did not do anything wrong to apologize. You were never wrong. It was my entire fault”, I wept.
“Harini”, he tried to touch my shoulders. I slowly stood up.
“Rajiv, I want to come back to you. I need your love. The moment we shared few seconds ago, I wish it was true forever. But, I could not do anything now. Everything has gone out of my hands.” I spoke in between my tears.
“What happened? He asked terrified.
“My wedding is already decided. Just the dates are to be finalized.”, I managed to complete my sentence in between my sobs.
I bit my lip, closed my mouth just to make sure, my weeping sounds did not draw unwanted attention.
“Rajiv, take care.”, I said, as I moved to leave his room.
I stood at the door step, tears rolling down. For one last time, I turned to him and uttered those words.
“I am Sorry Rajiv, for everything. Please forgive me.”
As I walked back to my cottage, I was not sure from where , but I did hear the words of the songs.
“Varam kidaithum naan thavara vittean mannipaya… Anbe….”
(Though I knew you were a boon to me, I left you behind. Will you forgive me, My love?)
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