“The number you are trying to connect is unreachable. “Echoed back the recorded voice for the seventh time.
“Manish!!! Where are you?” I almost wondered out loud. My mother’s description about the guy who was to come and see me this weekend bellowed in my head.
“He is the perfect husband material. You are going to love him. Am so glad we got this alliance before others. You don’t know how jealous Leila Aunty got when she heard about this. This is like a wish come true…”I had not listened to the rest of our words and had vanished into my room thinking hard on how to stop my mother from hurrying me in to these ”Engagement talks”.
I knew none of the reasons I had could make her change her mind. She could be armed with an equally valuable reason to hurry the engagement.
1. I had just started on my dream job.
She would reply, “You can continue it after the marriage too. If we let this go, then somebody else might get him. “
2. I have a boyfriend.
“Boyfriend!!! Since when… How do you know him? How much does he earn? Does he belong to our community? You do know that Grandpa does not like these things.”
I would reply, “Well. His name is Manish. I know him through facebook. He has a temporary job now. And, no, he does not belong to our community or caste.”
BOOM. Culture Shock for my mother. And maybe heart attack for my frail and traditional Grandpa.
Who the hell was that prospective material? Why should I marry him now? And why was my boyfriend who could always make my inbox full with his ‘Gud Morn, Gud Nite, Wazzup’ messages suddenly unreachable.
“Gaw” I sighed out heavily frustrated. I got up and put down the heavy files onto the table. It upset the scissors beside it. The scissor flew out of the table into the window and out of the building falling to the ground floor from the 12th floor.
I looked at Alisha’s apologetically.
“Those were the only gift I had ever received from my sister-in-law for my birthday. Seriously Hansa you have lost it. I already told you I don’t know Manish personally. Yeah I am facebook friends with his brother, but that dude has not come online since ages. I will try to contact him as soon as he comes online. Now would you please…? I have to prepare for the dinner tonight. My whole husband’s family is coming. And do bring the scissors. “Said Alisha in an exasperated voice busily kneading the dough.
“Okay. I am sorry. It’s just my mom is so excited about this prospect and I don’t know how to face her. This ‘Prospective Material’ thing is driving me nuts.” I said making way to the door.
I made my way for the lift. I got in. Wish Manish could spring up by magic in that lift. I was really stumped by the situation.
“Hansa?” said a voice. I turned around and noticed a six foot frame that I had not seen in a long time.
“Divyanth.” I almost yelled back in surprise.
“Wow. Never thought I could see you like this.”
“Yeah…” I said staring at him trying to push back the memory of our hug that was causing me to slowly blush.
The lift stopped. We stepped out.
“What are you doing here?” he asked looking at me unblinking.
“My friend lives here.” I said.
“Oh… Hey am in hurry actually. Why don’t you give me your mobile number and I will message you mine. We will meet up later.” He said, taking out his cell phone. I gave him my number. He hurried off to a waiting car at the gate. I walked out and started looking for the scissors in a dazed manner.
Sh*t. Why should I meet him in a situation like this? After that encounter I had imagined lots of situations for our next meeting. Situations in which I could be cool and confident. But now… WHY? WHY? WHY? Is the fox being reduced to a clumsy chicken while the grapes were turning out to be the one of the tastiest, desirable and successful?
The rest of my day passed in the same daze as I tried to find my boyfriend. At the end I was afraid to go back home where I was sure my mother could resume the conversation about the alliance. So I decided to spend the night at the company’s guest room.
I browsed through the contacts. I had called most of my 220 friends. Then why had no one been able to give me comfort? Then why was I still feeling insecure? Then why was I still feeling so worthless and alone?
Divyanth…I stopped scrolling. I had not contacted him. I had got his contact only today. What he was to me? Friend or acquaintance or still the irritating mortal enemy? I had not even added his number to any of the groups in my phone- Friends, Acquaintance, Miscellaneous. Yet in the middle of the night lying in the hard bed in the guest room, I dialled his number.
He picked up the phone at the third ring.
I replied back “Hello.” I had thought a lot as to whether I should call him or not, yet I had not thought of what to say to him once he attended my call.
“Long time…” he continued. And through the night we talked about our locality, our college. We argued, we laughed, we shared memories, and we made the other notice the things they had missed. When I woke up the next morning I was feeling very fresh and did not remember Manish till a call came from my mother enquiring when I would be returning.
I tried to call Manish again but he did not pick up. I hurried off to Alisha’s place. But when I reached her building I did not go to her apartment but instead went straight to Divyanth’s apartment .With bated breath I knocked on the door. Divyanth opened the door looking very sleepy.
“Hansa. What a surprise just now woke up. What’s the prob? “He asked looking at my worried face.
“Hmm. Actually…” For the next half hour I had poured almost all of my problems except my mother’s prejudice for him.
“Okay… So you don’t want to get married now, but your mother wants you to…”summed up Divyanth at the end of my outburst.
“Instead of talking to your mother or your BF that is unreachable at the moment why don’t you talk to the prospective alliance guy and explain it to him…” he volunteered.
“That’s actually nice. In fact very nice. Why had not it occurred to me before? I will go and talk to him right now. Thanks a lot. Why don’t we meet up for dinner the following weekend? My treat. ” I gave him my best smile and hurried off.
I messaged a trusted cousin of mine to send the contact details of my “Alliance Guy”. I then went to catch up on some office work. Finally after buying some fruits I was heading off to Alisha’s in high spirits. My phone rang.
“Hello. Divyanth.” I said picking it up…
“NO. This is Manish. Listen sweetheart, just now got your voicemail. Been busy. Am coming soon.” He almost yelled into the phone. Then the line went dead again.
Surprisingly the voice I had been yearning for the past two weeks did not make me happy. But rather left me disappointed. Why had not Divyanth called? OMG! Was I also being mesmerised by the spell cast by Divyanth. It had only been two weeks that I had not seen Manish but the excitement, the “Love Feeling” was no longer making my heart race. The six hour talk with Divyanth had made my six month relationship lacklustre. I was experiencing a gradient of emotions with Divyanth- from dislike to hate after the stone incident, from hate to awkwardness at the paper incident, from awkwardness to extreme comfortableness after the scissors incident. I was feeling confused and mixed up as the images of Manish and Divyanth swam in my mind’s eye.
“What happened Hansa?” Called out Alisha holding a ladle in one hand.
“Nothing…” I said absent minded.
“Don’t worry. Manish will surely contact you. He must have become stuck with something important. It will all turn out to be okay. Even if you can’t do anything about your mother right now. Am sure once he comes back you two can figure it all out. Do you remember how once he solved your “big presentation thing” mishap?”she said patting me reassuringly.
Yeah! That’s right Manish had always been there for me. He loves me. I was just getting mixed up by seeing Divyanth suddenly.
“I know. He called. He said he is coming soon.”
“See I told you “said Alisha sighing dramatically,” Now you just have to stall the engagement party.” She said looking concerned at my still appalled face.
“Is this really about Manish or someone else?” she enquired.
Something snapped in my brain. And I replied a tad too excited, “Of Course who else could it be? I was just so glad that I went in to a shock”
“I get it. You were just shocked when your mother began to control the next step in your life. I can understand. That’s why you were not able to figure out a solution. You were ranting on and off about the problem when the solution was just right on front of your nose.”
“Actually I did not think of the solution Divyanth did.”
“Divyanth. You mean Charu’s ex-boyfriend” whispered Alisha.
“Yeah. The same empty-headed junior who acted as though she was just so in love with Divyanth. MAN!!! She was such a pain. She asked me to help her in the breaking up process. But was already looking for her next boyfriend by playing the sympathetic game to every contact in her phone. She was so good at sucking up to others, acting all so pleasant….” I was saying with a new surge of excitement and feel goodedness which you feel while backbiting people
“I was what …” came a voice from the figure that had just emerged at the door leading to the bathroom.
I looked baffled. Alisha cleared her throat and said in a falsely cheerful voice,” Hansa. You do remember our delightful junior-Charu. You know she is one of my husband’s second cousins. She came here to help me today with the lunch.”
I now realised why Alisha had whispered Charu’s name. I tried to manage this weird situation.
“Hi. Charu.Oh!!You have grown taller. I did not know that was possible. I was just talking about our little break up mission back during our College. And how you clearly ended your things with your last boyfriend. You are one of the rare people who can call a spade a spade and speak directly without beating around the bush.”I said fervently hoping she bought in my story.
“Am I?” she asked still not convinced.
“Yes. Of course you are.” Took over Alisha. She did not want to start on the wrong foot with her husband’s second cousin.” You seriously have a clear mind and thinking when it comes to these kinds of situation. You are not at all confused like Hansa here. You know she is now muddled in a problem of hers. “
She then went on to paint a picture of me being so nervous and distraught about my coming engagement. She made me look like a girl from the 2nd century who could not talk to boy or a gentleman with her head held up. I was according to her not at all in a situation to solve the problem. So could the clear headed girl aka Charu help to solve it? So (I still don’t know how the conversation lead to this) Charu was now calling to the number that I had taken form my mother’s Sticky note labelled-“Hansa’s hubby”.
I looked as she sweetly spoke to my would-have-been hubby. She portrayed herself as Hansa who was so in love with her soul mate, Manish. And who due to ardent respect for her mother and family could not confront them regarding her undying love in case they felt wronged. So could he please please cancel the engagement from his side? And she would be grateful for such a kindness on his part.
Crick. That was the sound of my engagement being broken as my would- have-been hubby conceded. I left after chatting for some time about our evergreen college memories.
I left with a big smile as I hoped this could be the last of my crazy problems . My smile turned even broader when I read the text from Divyanth.
‘Free for dinner tonite???’
Two weeks later Divyanth was no longer an unlisted contact in my mobile but the most dialled one. He became this friend who teased me all the time. And one who chatted about nonsense funny things . And one who brushed off our frequent debuts that were turning to the furiuous arguments by saying “Let’s do Stone Paper Scissors”. And who could pull up irritated kiddish jokes which now was becoming a habit for both of us.
“No the sequel was hardly anywhere near the original. You boys just care about the HD quality and not the storyline.”I said not giving up our debate we had started as soon as we had come from the theatre after the movie. We made a beeline for the food counter in our favourite mall
“The sequel is better. You just don’t like it because you had already read the book.” He said taking up the chair opposite me. He handed me the menu card in front of him.
“The book was better. The movie was so predictable.” I said screening the menu.
“See. It was predictable because you had read the book.” He said calling for the waiter.
“One Coke and One lemon juice please. Followed by Hakka noodles and vegetable sandwich.” He read out.
I glared at him. He asked,” What?”
“Why did you give me the menu card when you were going to eat whatever you wanted.”
“Am sure you were going to order the same thing . You always order the same thing whenever we go out.”
“No. I do not.”
“Common…” He said . And I knew he was speaking the truth.
“Yes.” I said slowly.”But I was going to order only the lemon juice. I am meeting up with Manish for dinner. SO you eat the sandwich yourself.”
“Manish. Oh!! Your BF. By the way how did you meet him?”He asked putting his hands in the table in an interrogative manner.
“ Facebook.” I said still scanning the menu. For some reason I did not want to talk about Manish to him.
“ Facebook. Nobody in the real world wanted you …?So you picked up the “Right Guy” from the virtual world.”
“No. A lot of people here as well as in the virtual world wanted me. FYI most of the guys whom I have met proposed me at one point.”
“ Well…I have not. Anyways how did you embark this romantic journey with Manish leaving behind other competent mates?”
“I thought you hated hearing love stories. You could not listen to the story of my friend Alisha and how their love of two days ended in marriage. Oh God!!! Alisha is so lucky. The doctor has said the baby could be due next month. You are coming right? For the naming ceremony of the baby. We can catch up on some of our old college mates. Am sure they would be coming.” I steered the conversation away from Manish whom I was going to see after whole two months .
We parted on a heated argument about elephants and promised to meet up next day to decide who was right by Stone Paper Scissors. I was getting good at it. I had won the last three duals.
For some reason Manish cancelled out on our appointment at the last minute. But promise to meet up the next day at my bus stop. He was not aware that I had stopped taking buses and was hitching rides from Divyanth.
The next day I met Manish in our usual nook at the broken down shop. We chatted for a few minutes. He complained that he was facing lots of stress at work and was not at all up to the mark according to his seniors. I pretended to be understanding but in truth I was bored. He left after giving a swift kiss on my forehead.
I came out of the shadows only to look at the figure of my mother who had come from the adjacent vegetable shop. She glared at me and motioned me to follow her.
“What were you doing?” she asked.
“He is just a friend.” I began lamely.
CHAK. My mother’s fingers made their imprint on my cheek.
“Is this how I brought you up? You have nothing been but a disgrace…” She began her usual branding of me as a cursed possession of hers ever since I had been born.
“Mother. Stop it. I have not done anything disgraceful. He is my boyfriend and I can do whatever I want with him. You don’t have any right on my romantic life.” I said and stormed out.
That was the first time I had stood up and talked back to my mother.
I retold the story to Alisha when I stopped at her home to see her. She commended me and said I should have done it a long time back. Maybe that could have lessened the pain in my mother’s hurtful comments. May be that could have fostered a better and an open relationship between us. Maybe that could have lessened her prejudice for a boy child?? Maybe…But why did I do it now…?
My cell beeped.
A message came from Divyanth. I suddenly started missing him even though I had just called him in the morning.
Divyanth came as usual half hour late. I hopped onto his car and we made for our favourite lunch spot. We parked our car and were just making our way out off the parking lot. Two figures dashed out from the shadows. The girl pushing away the boy playfully while the boy pulled her back.
“Stop it Manish. Not here…” said the girly voice. I watched the guy for whom I had fought with my mother trying to smooch the girl. I stopped startled. Manish saw me and said,”Err…”lamely still holding the girl in his arms.
My brain stopped functioning the moment I saw his hands around another girl. I had no memory of slapping him hard across the face or of continuing the conversation with Divyanth about the inflation and obesity or of hurrying out in the middle of order in the pretext of withdrawing money from ATM
I was now crying silently in the ATM. I don’t know how long I was standing like that but the door suddenly opened. I raised my hands to cover my tears but before that Divyanth said,”Hansa…..”
I don’t know whether his tone was concerned or worried or inquisitive but I broke down in front of him.
“I can’t believe, I can’t believe…. I fought for that creep. Now what’s going to happen….? Why did I ever stand up to my mother? She is right…. Maybe I am a disgrace….” I started blabbering in between my tears…
“Maybe I should never have been born…. I ……” but before I could complete the sentence, Divyanth had pushed me up against the wall. He grabbed my shoulders and I was looking into his brown eyes burning with hurt.
“Don’t ever say that again….”Then his lips pressed against mine. I was baffled as I tried to fight off his grab. He seemed to have no intention of giving up as he found and kissed my lips every time I moved away from his. Then maybe due to the sexual attraction or due to the animalistic mating instinct or due to love for my first enemy I started kissing him back. I don’t know how long I was in his embrace forgetting all the problems that had ever existed in my life. No time or place or memory ever existed for me at that moment. It was as though my life had started now with this kiss.
SNAP… What was I doing?? I pushed him away. He dashed into the opposite wall. For the second time that day my fingers made another imprint on the cheek of the opposite gender. I stormed off. I did not know whether to laugh or cry. I reached home. My mother had complained to my father about how unruly I had become. I should be married off soon or kept locked till then. I tried not to listen to either of my parents. I locked myself up in my room.
The next day I woke up after dreaming many confusing dreams of myself, Manish and Divyanth. The contents of which I did not want to remember. I rushed off to work despite my mother literally trying to lock me in my room and refusing me breakfast.
The rest of the week I was mindlessly hurrying through my work, ignoring my mother’s screamings, guiltily listening my father’s gentle disapprovals and brushing off the infrequent counsellings by my many relatives.
My whole mind was becoming tired by the tornado of thoughts that had hit it. I missed Divyanth so much but I was still appalled at the boldness of his moves. Surprisingly Manish never crossed my mind even once. Even when I went to meet Alisha at the hospital and she enquired about Manish. I replied with a frigid face,” We broke up” she patted my hand in a supporting manner,” He was never good enough for you. I am glad. Just leave him. You will meet someone else. “
I just nodded silently. Weeks turned into months. Alisha’s baby was born. They invited me for her naming ceremony.
The couple had invited most of our college mates. I did not want to meet Divyanth in such an awkward atmosphere so I messaged.
“STONE PAPER SCISSORS.”
So we met up at our usual place in the park where we used to solve our intense arguments with ‘Stone Paper Scissors’.
He came half hour late as usual.
“Okay. Whoever wins apologises and we move on…” I said not quite meeting his eyes.
“How about whoever wins confesses their love ….” he said staring me down.
I did not say anything but just put one of my hands behind my back.
I put up scissors.
He put up stone.
His stone crashed my scissors.
All the wavering thoughts that I had been having the past week gave me a clear vision of what exactly I was feeling.
“Yeah… You are right… I love you. I had always loved you . Maybe it started from the moment my mother began to say your name more than mine… I wanted to beat you… And then I understood that it was not possible… I was discouraged, I could never shine like the son my mother wanted me to be. So I transferred all the disappointment in to blind hatred for you… But then I realised why this stupid competition. You are talented in your way and so am I. Do you know I developed this self confidence when I was with you? In spite of the blind hatred I had for you I felt most comfortable around you. Even though we argued I knew you listened to my opinions. Even though you teased me and messed with me I wanted to look beautiful in front of you. I never ever thought I could let a stupid game settle a fight that started because of your frivolous nature . But here I am telling you …I love you Divyanth. “I said looking up into his eyes at last. A small smile was beginning to appear in the corner of his lips.
I pushed him hard into a dumpster nearby.
“You are such a …. I can’t even think of a suitable word to swear. I wish I had never ever met you…”
It must have been a week since the incident. My mother asked me to dress up in a sari one evening I came back from home. She said something about having fixed up and repaired my broken off engagement. I sullenly carried the coffee tray to the balcony where my would -have -been hubby was waiting for me…
I placed the coffee tray and looked up. The small smile that was appearing at the corner of Divyanth’s mouth one week back was now completed. He was looking at me with a huge grin.
“What are you doing here?”
“Hoping to lose a game of ’Stone Paper Scissors’ I really wanted to lose the last time and confess my love for you.”
“Are you flirting with me just like you did with all your girlfriends at college?”
“No only with you. You know…I play Stone Paper Scissors only with you. You are so bad at it. I really did want to let you win sometimes. But could not because I wanted to make you angry. You don’t know how beautiful you are when you are angry. I got addicted to it.”
“Do you always kiss girls randomly?”
“I just wanted to stop your crying. I really don’t understand why you have to cry when you are with me…”
“Were you my would have been husband? Why did you make me break off that engagement?”
“You wanted to break free at that time. And then I started slowly falling in love with you…And because the world is round finally you have come back to me…..”. He winked at me. We hugged…
Destiny had already chosen this guy for me. I was the only one running away from it, twisting it and complicating it. But now I am not going to fight it anymore.
Masters In Biotechnology(AIIMS,Delhi)