The emptiness in my heart mirrored the vast open sea. There wasn’t a soul around till the eyes could see. The sea seemed so calm that one wouldn’t even know that when it gets angry, it can even kill.
“People crave for a chance to look at me. But you don’t seem to care. Who are you?”
Wearing a tube top and hot pants, she seemed dressed to kill. Oodles of makeup, botox, straightened hair; guess she loved to look artificial. She didn’t seem the type who you would find on cruise liners.
“Are you talking to me?” I was taken aback at this sudden conversation.
“Yes Mister. Diana is talking to you. Any doubts?”
“Uh Oh! Am I bothering you? I am really sorry.”
“You seem weird. Is everything ok?” She put her palm gently on my shoulder out of what seemed genuine concern.
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? You seem lost. Look at your dressing style. Are you stuck in the 90s? Your hair is all ruffled up and your eyes indicate that you haven’t slept for days.
Look around. Aren’t these surroundings beautiful? Everyone comes here on a holiday to relax and unwind but you seem to be on an introspection mission.” She didn’t know me one bit but went on as if we knew each other for years.
She was right. I was lost. Why was I here on this Alaskan cruise all alone? Did I really need a random woman to set my life straight?
“Why do you care? Don’t you have anything useful to do? Just leave me alone. You go your way and let me go mine.”
“Whoa! Look at you. I try to help you out for your own good and all you do is yell at me. Oh Lord! What a thankless world.” And she sat there all gloomy.
“But what will you get by helping me?”
“Nothing. I won’t help if it’s such a huge problem.” She cursed inwardly and walked off irritated.
As the hours flew by, the liner slowly made its way past the majestic fjords and the numerous volcanoes which dot the Alaskan landscape. With the sky turning into a shade of dark grey, the sea started to get rough. This was the time and place to snuggle into your loved ones arms.
“You love to talk to yourself, don’t you?” And she was back on the deck, this time though with an overcoat to stay warm. The harsh Alaskan winter was slowly setting in.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Someone once said that if you share your problems, you will feel a lot lighter.”
“You are still stuck on that, aren’t you? Are you always so free?”
“Don’t worry about me. Let’s leave that for another day. So shall we begin?”
“Ok fine. I don’t know why am telling all this to a complete stranger like you. Maybe destiny has something in store.”
“I am all ears.” She was more excited than I and sat there with her palm resting on her chin and looking at me as if telling me to go on.
The story begins…..
Maybe she never loved me at all. I gave the relationship everything I could but what she gave me was sadness and dejection in return. I sacrificed my friends, my passion for photography and also my hard earned money so that we could be happy. But all she loved was money.
Just so that I could forget the torture Neharika inflicted upon me, I immersed myself into our hosiery family business. Late nights, frequent flights and irritating phone calls; it had all become a part of my life. Did I have friends? No. Did I have someone who I could confide in? No. All I cared about was making loads of money. And so, life went on for many years.
Until one day at a wedding in Gurgaon —
Her gorgeous smile seemed to obscure the loneliness her hazel kohl lined eyes portrayed. Every moment that I gazed at her, I could feel myself losing into those eyes. She was really tall and with a figure that would have put many others to shame, she seemed to capture everyone’s attention at the party. She had made the effort to tie her hair but a strand popped out on the side of her cheek. As she brushed it off, my heart skipped a beat. I had just fallen for her. She was the one.
But wait. I had never seen her before. Who was she? How come she was here? Was she related to us?
Just as the questions were swirling on in my head, I heard my sister call out to her. So that was it. She was one of her closest friends.
My sister took the initiative to get the introductions done. But our voices drowned out as the music being played was at its highest decibel. It was a festive atmosphere with people dancing and making merry all around.
But even in this huge gathering, I could only notice her. I kept staring until my sister pushed me away realizing that it was becoming an awkward situation. Throughout the evening, I always made it a point to be in her vicinity. Though in the middle of all this, I became so absent minded that I accidentally crashed into one of the pillars set up to hold the marriage tent upright. It was one hell of an embarrassing situation.
How could my cute little sister never tell me about Shahana? Though it took me a week, I finally got a chance to confront her.
“You never told me about this friend of yours.”
“Who are you talking about?” She seemed quite oblivious.
“Her smile was enough. Her eyes were saying so much. She was a dream.”
Rimi – my sister was neck deep into her novel when I began my questions. As soon as she heard my heart begin to talk, she just turned around looking astonished.
“Wait a minute. You are talking about Shahana, right?
“Yeah obviously. Who else do you think?”
“What happened to my brother who is always so quiet and shy? God! You were totally staring at her that day.” She seemed quite shocked.
“Rimi, she has had some kind of effect on me. Since that day, I have just been thinking of her. When I am sleeping, I see her in my dreams. At work, I can see her sitting next to me. Someone once said that when you close your eyes, the first person you see or think of is the one you love. I can only see her all the time.”
“Oh! Please spare me your poetic nonsense. You have gone totally nuts. I guess I need to take you to the doctor. ” She laughed out aloud.
“Ok fine. Make fun of me. But am sure she will fall for me one day.”
Shahana seemed to be a really independent and level headed woman who was interested to make a career in modelling since she had the looks and the sex appeal. But modelling is not just about that. Whether rejected for looks or for lack of contacts or even the casting couch, things are not as easy as they seem. But I was sure that she would win over everyone with her vivacious and bubbly demeanour.
On the other hand, my life had become dull and dreary from work all day long. Words like enjoyment, fun or partying were totally conspicuous by their absence. Since the Neharika episode, it was as if I had stopped talking to girls much to the frustration of my parents.
“Don’t you plan to get married anytime soon?”
“I need to find the right girl dad.”
“You have been saying that for years. Let us get you married so that we can live in peace.”
“It’s not that you are living a life of torture right now. Can’t we do without this discussion every day?” I just walked off in a huff as I was sick and tired of hearing the same thing day in and day out.
Would Shahana be that right girl for me? Since the time I had seen her, I couldn’t think of anything but her. Coincidentally, she happened to stay quite close to our place. One fine day, I saw her dressed in a resplendent pink salwar walking with her tiny little bag. Maybe she was going to work. Maybe she was going somewhere else. But from then on, I began to get up just at that particular time hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Whether it was western formals or salwars, whether it was hair tied in a bun or just left open, whether it was pink or green, she always looked elegant.
“You are jobless, is it?” She finally caught up with me one day.
“Uh Oh! Huh.” I was lost for words.
“Don’t try to act really smart with me. I know you have been staring at me since the past week.”
“I am sorry. But you know what; I have something to tell you.”
“Can I just walk with you today?”
“I will just take 5 minutes. Please. Please. Please.” This was my chance. I wish she wouldn’t refuse.
“Ok!” And she agreed much to my delight.
“Has it ever happened that one person always remains in your head day in and day out?”
“Has it ever happened that one person has made you smile despite others making you sad all day?”
“Why are you asking me this?”
“Has it ever happened that one person you are thinking about all day suddenly appears in front of you making you shy?”
“I need to go to work. It’s getting really late.” We had reached her destination.
“It’s happened to me. And for me that person is you!” As soon as I held her hand to tell her how much she meant to me, she just loosened my tight grip and walked off stunned. I stood there hoping she would turn to look back but she didn’t.
How did I get the courage to say all this? What about my resolve not to go behind a girl after the Neharika episode? Was I going to suffer yet again? There was so much going on in my head that I would have got a migraine attack then and there.
Maybe she changed her route. Maybe she was on leave from work. Maybe she just wanted to avoid me. Whatever it was, I didn’t get to see her for more than a month. For the first few weeks, I tried searching for her everywhere. As nothing seemed to be working out, I resigned myself to the fact that she would remain just that – a dream.
When one day –
“How are you doing Rakesh?”
“Errr..Yeah I am fine. What about you?” She reappeared as quietly as she had disappeared.
“I have been awesome.”
— (And their conversation continues) —
“It’s fine Rimi. I know how to tackle guys pretty well. You know that, right?”
“Oh yeah! I can never forget the day when you hit that guy where it hurts the most.” And both of them burst out laughing.
When she finally stepped out to leave, I caught up with her –
“If you didn’t like me, you could have just told me. I would have gone away. Why did you have to avoid me all these days?”
“My parents are not well. I had to be by their side. And moreover, I have always lived my life tackling guys like you. So then the question of avoiding doesn’t arise at all.”
“Once we are friends, you can tackle me much better. Don’t you think so?” I winked looking at her.
“Are you sure you want to be just ‘friends’?”
“Any doubts? By the way, did you really hit that guy so badly?”
And she walked off with a naughty smile leaving me behind with hundreds of questions yet again.
Was this a ‘Yes’? Would we be friends? Would she talk to me? Would she meet me? Was she just joking around?
But it actually happened. We began to talk. She began to come out with me. Whether it was taking leaves from work or meeting after work for a drink or dinner, we started to hang out together.
“So is this a date?” She could see me smiling.
“Why do you think so?”
“I called you and you came. So I must assume it is, right?” I loved putting her in a spot.
“Err…No. I mean yeah, maybe!” She was lost for words. And the smile she gave after that was one I could die for.
Sometimes we bitched about how couples treat relationships in today’s world while at other times we cribbed about how life can become a pain. Sometimes we went to watch the worst of movies just so that we could yell abuses at the actors while at other times we got drunk and did crazy antics. She had just changed me completely from the dull, dreary and boring person I had become. We discussed about our lives, our careers, and our pasts.
As days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, our lives started revolving around each other so much so that we didn’t seem to have time for anyone else. Our first kiss, our times spent talking just sweet nothings, the night’s spent talking to each other till the time we slept; it had all become a routine of sorts.
Like any other girl, she loved attention. Whether it was her beauty or her brains, there were guys who fought to get a piece of her. But she also knew how to maintain a distance. Many a time she had warned me to be careful but more as a joke rather than any hint of seriousness.
“Aren’t you scared that one of my admirers may do something to you?”
“So you want me to be scared and run away, huh?”
“No. I didn’t mean that. But look at you. You are so weak. If someone hits you even once, you will fall like a pack of cards.” And she began laughing hysterically.
“Laugh. Laugh. I am sure my love for you is more than enough to scare them.”
“Oh! Please spare me with those cliche dialogues of yours.”
She was the reason the photographer in me got a new birth. Like any creative person has a muse, she became mine.
Though her passion was modelling any day, she dreamt of roaming the world on cruise liners. And so her parents had suggested her to pursue hotel management until she succeeded as a model. While in my case, life had started to revolve around her wishes and desires. Was I making the same mistake again?
But one fine day something else lay in store for me.
“Better stay away from her. Who the hell do you think you are?” They were brawny and intimidating. The group of six men armed with hockey sticks seemed to have blood on their minds.
“Who are you talking about?” I didn’t have a clue what they were saying.
“You don’t know? Haha. Guys he doesn’t know. Do you think I am a fool?” The pseudo leader among them held my shirt looking at me menacingly.
“Who are you to tell me to stay away from her? I love her and she loves me too.” I was scared but my love for her was as strong as ever. Anything can be solved through talking with a calm mind.
But they seemed least interested in talking. They hit me as much as they could. Whether it was breaking my bones to ensure that I couldn’t get up for days on end or completely disfiguring my face, they thrashed me as if there was no tomorrow. I tried my best to fight back but one against six was never going to succeed. It was as if my life was reduced to its last embers.
I don’t know how long I stayed in coma. Maybe it was weeks or days or even months. But when I came to my senses, the only thing I could think off was her. According to my sister, for the first couple of weeks, Shahana had sat by my side day in and day out. She refused to sleep or eat until I got up. She tried talking to me all the time. But one day out of the blue, she just disappeared. She said that her father didn’t want her to stay in a city which had ruffians roaming around. All she left was a letter which proclaimed our love.
How could she leave just like that? What about our love? What about all the promises we made? What about all the dreams we dreamt? Did she really care about us?
I was devastated. It felt like the whole world around me had come crashing down in a matter of seconds. Slowly but surely, I began to become a recluse cutting myself off from everyone around me. It literally felt like déjà vu all over again. Nothing really mattered anymore. My career was almost in tatters as I wasn’t concentrating at work. My life was reaching a point of no return until my friend asked me three simple questions –
Why are you spoiling your life just for love? Why are you making your parents suffer by all this? You are a suave and dynamic individual of today. Don’t you care about your career?
And so, I began the journey to bring my life back on track. But somewhere deep down, I still missed her. I wished she was there as my support. I made umpteen efforts to search for her on social networks, through email, through her friends and even traveled on cruise packages which our company won as rewards expecting her to be working on one of them. I also made it a point to search for her among the famous models of India and the world.
But nothing seemed to work out. It seemed as though she had disappeared from the face of the earth.
Back to the present…
“And the search continues.”
“It’s been two years Rakesh. Till when are you going to do this?”
“Till I get to see her at least once.”
“You never hated her? You never wanted to abuse her one bit? I mean you loved her like crazy but she just left you all alone.” Diana was understandably shocked.
“She loved me for who I was and not for money. You don’t hate someone you love. We loved each other as deeply as we could. It was beautiful till it lasted. Just because it didn’t work out, I don’t harbour any ill will against her.”
“Boss, someone should learn the meaning of love from you.” And she did a mock salute.
And then as it happens in movies all the time, I saw her. The strong wind stirred around her, making her hair fly and cover her face though she tried her best to keep it out. Her face still retained the same glow which I had seen years back. Though she seemed to have lost a lot of weight, she looked really stylish in the uniform of a cruise manager.
As our eyes met, both of us looked stunned and kept staring at each other for a while before running into a warm tight embrace as Diana looked on all confused.
“Shahana..! Did you just hear everything I said?” She just put her fingers on my lips to keep me shut.
That one hug seemed to have everything from friendship to love. It brought back all the memories of the years gone by in a jiffy. It felt soothing and tranquil all at once. Both of us had a lot to talk but that was for later. Happiness writ large on her face, Diana walked away quietly letting us live the moment.
The decor and the ambience at the Marino restaurant looked straight out of the American culture of the past. The tables were set exquisitely with the bone china cutlery and draped with cotton linen. From the windows, one could see the calm and tranquil waters of the Bering Sea. As we sat to talk in this five star restaurant of MS Crown Princess, we didn’t realize how the hours went by.
She kept apologizing the whole evening for the thrashing I received that fateful day. She told me how her parents cut her off from her friends, from the online world and also from the modelling world. It was total house arrest. It was only after she wildly protested and warned them that she would run away, they allowed her to go back to the hotel management industry. Life had become torturous until she got an offer to join a cruise liner a year back. That was her dream and her parents finally gave in to let her live it.
“I thought you would hate me. My only wish was to get a chance to explain my side of the story. I really don’t know how to apologize for the way Akaash hurt you. Those were the worst days of my life. It was like life was ebbed out of me. There were so many times I wanted to talk to you, to cry to you and to love you over the past two years. But somehow, life didn’t give me that opportunity.”
There were tears and emotions flowing freely as we opened our hearts out to each other. It was quite a journey from that wedding in Delhi four years back when I first saw her.
Maybe, it really was the destiny of our lives to meet again.
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