Mike boarded the bus to Dehradun, his headphones on his ears and a packet of chips in his hands. He boarded the bus and got to his seat no. 17 which was on the aisle side.He always preferred the aisle side as it had more space for his long legs and also there was a strong possibility that the window side would be occupied by some beautiful girl. But alas, his wishes were not fulfilled when a big, burly uncle with his belly so large that he could not even see his shoes, came to sit beside him on the window seat.
He adjusted himself with some difficulty and Mike was also forced to shrink to his side to make room for him. Mike put on his headphones to endure this long and painful journey home, sitting beside the fat uncle.
He must have dozed off because someone was shaking him. His eyes flew open and he was looking at the fat uncle shaking his shoulder. He tried to come to his senses and listen to what he was saying. He said, " Can you please move over to that seat no.7, my wife and I are traveling together but got different seats. Beta would you please shift to that seat???"
I looked at him grudgingly and made a disgusted face. I didn't wanted to move but the aunty was already standing near me and looking at me expectantly. I got up even more grudgingly and made my way to seat no. 7. The seat beside me had a bag on it and the bearer of the bag was missing.
Judging from the looks of the bag, Mike felt it must be some guy since it was a Decathlon bag. He sat down in the seat, much more comfortable than before and happy to be out of the fat uncle's clutches.
Just as he had settled and the bus was just starting to move, someone came to him and asked him to move. He didn’t look up from his phone and moved his legs aside a little, already assuming that the boy will pass through.
The person passed through and sat down. Only when Mike felt a strong fragrance did he look up to find himself looking at a girl sitting beside him.
She was wearing black jeans and a very loose black t-shirt. Her hair could be barely seen as it was wound tightly under her black cap and her face was covered in a mask. He felt as if he had seen her somewhere but couldn’t place her.
The only thing feminine about her was her slender wrists and a strong fragrance. He finally felt better that he had exchanged the seats and God had for once shown some mercy on him.
Just as he was about to start a conversation with her, his phone rang. He looked up to see his Mom calling. He picked the call.
Mom: Hello Mik. Beta tu baith gaya bus me? Bus chal di?Kuch khane ko hai? Bus ka number note kiya?Kab tak pahuchega?
Mik: Haan Maa, baith gaya. Han Lays le liye hai...baki jab bus rukegi to kuch khaa lunga. Maa bus ka number kaun note karta hai, online book karai thi, bheja to tha apko msg. 11 bje tak pahuchuga Maa.
Mom: han,han pata hai mujhe. Kuch khane ko nahi hai kya? Chal jab rukegi bus kuch khaa lena. Aj teri favourite Kadhi-chawal bana rahi hu. Achha tune shave kar li thi? Tujhe yaad hai na kal tujhe ladki dekhne jana hai?
Mik: han maa yaad hai, aap bhulne kahan deti ho. Aake karwa lunga shave. ..apko na fashion ka kuch pata he nahi hai...Thik hai maa. Jab Bus rukegi Roorkee pe pas tab phone kartahu. Papa ko bata dena. Bye Maa.
Mom: Han beta call kardena..chal bye beta.
He remembered why he was going home after his long trip with his friends in Jaipur. His parents, especially his mom had lined up 4 girls for him to see for his marriage. He had gone through all the photos and their biodata and felt that he could meet with them and then see how things work out. He was always an advocate of love marriage but love hadn’t worked out for him. He had been left heartbroken not by the girl but by society. The caste, the states, the religion all had mattered much more than the love itself and she had succumbed to the threats of her family. He didn’t want to open that closed chapter of his life again and wanted a new start.
So he had told his mom to start looking for an ideal wife for him and his mom was more than happy to oblige. She was scared that he would never marry and when he had told her 2 weeks back, she was overjoyed.
She had turned it into a full-time hobby to shortlist girls, to send out his biodata, to talk to the families, to arrange meetings, to get the photograph of the girl as well as her biodata. It was a hobby which she never had and she was very happy.
Finally, her mother had shortlisted 4 girls for him for which he also accepted. He had taken a week's holiday from his office and went on a trip to Jaipur and now was heading home to Dehradun to meet his prospective brides.
The girl beside him sat quietly, looking out of the window. Nothing much of her face was visible except the tattoo on her right wrist. He wanted to start a conversation with her but couldn’t find any way to break the ice.
After thinking of many ways, he resigned and went on to open his chips packet. Just as he cracked open the packet, she looked at him. He smiled and offered her Lays, and she took up the offer.
He internally high-fived himself that at last, the most cliché thing had helped him. Just as the Advertisement for “Lays” says, it had actually helped.
She smiled and said, “Going home?"
Mik: Yes, finally going home after a long time. Taras gaya hu maa ke hath ke khane ke liye. What about you?
She: Me too, going home. So you work in Delhi?
Mik: No, I actually work in Chandigarh. I had gone to Jaipur for a trip and am coming back home via Delhi. What about you?
She: I too had gone out with my friends and now coming back home via Delhi.
Mik: Oh that’s cool. So are you working somewhere?
She: Well actually I am a freelance writer.
Mik was intrigued but didn’t have any idea what a freelance writer was and didn’t want to look stupid asking her about it, so he started searching on his phone.
She also got busy with her phone. She asked, so what's your name?
Mik: People call me Mike or Mik mostly. What’s your name?
She said: I am Isha.
Mike: Oh..nice name.
Isha: Thanks. Yours too..unusual sa naam hai.
Then isha asked, " So you are going home just for ur mom's food ya koi aur wajh hai?
M: Well actually mai ladki dekhne jaa raha hu.... ( Going to see my future wife)
Isha( In a teasing tone) : Ohohoho.....arranged marriage? Tumhe dekh ke to nahi lagta ki tum arranged marriage wale hoge..
Mike: Looks can be deceptive. Mai bhut he sharif and nek dilwala hu....
Isha: Achaa....so u never had any girlfriend?
Mike: Aisa bhi nahi hai...I had a girlfriend ...but things didn’t work out between us.
Isha: Oh, toh ladke ka dil toota hua hai matlb and ab maa ki pasand ki ladki se shadi karni hai...
Mike got irritated and said: Oh please aisa kuch nahi hai....i am not a mummy's boy and yes things didn't work out because caste ko itna jayada importance di jati hai humari society me....ki woh do pyaar karne walo ke age bhut badi ho jati hai. My girlfriend didn’t ditch me...but she could not fight with her parents and society and since she was not a brahmin....we just couldn't be together.
Kuch kahaniya adhuri he puri hoti hai....
We agreed to it mutually...had a great break-up party... full-on booze and masti..
Isha: Oh, but if she would have loved you so much...wouldn’t she had fought harder?
Mike: Sometimes we just can’t go against our family...and usne mujhe bhut pehle he clear kar diya tha ki woh apni family ke against...specially apne papa ke against nahi jaa payegi..
She tried but when her father said No, I couldn’t argue with her.
Isha tried to change the topic. So you drink? Huh? Abhi toh you were saying ki u are a sharif ladka?
Mik( getting a little embarrassed and red): It’s not something I enjoy....I actually hate the taste..But peer-pressure me kai baar peeni padti hai..warna logo ko lagta hai ki ap ghochu ho...It's a secret...please don’t tell anyone.
Isha( smiling) : Acha, so you don’t drink...?
M: Nah..I just mix one or two drops with my coke...and say that me having a drink. When actually me having coke.
Isha: Nice trick...
Mike: What about you? Do you drink?
Isha: I have fun...I don’t need booze to have fun...dancing is the greatest nasha for me. When I can hear Punjabi music, then all I need is to dance to it.
Mike: Wow, that’s cool. So why are you going home?
Isha: I am going home for a friend’s wedding. Although I feel my mom has some ulterior motive in forcing me to come down for this trip home. She has been after me for the past 10 days that you have to come this weekend. I don’t know, what surprize she is planning for me, but I am not very fond of her surprizes. Meri mom ke surprizes bhut he khatarnaak hote hai.
Mike starts laughing, “ Oh I have heard this Doonie slang “Khatarnaak” after such a long time after school.”
Isha ( Both proudly and teasingly): Well, if you are a true doonite, you need to know these slangs, “Khatarnaak”, “Jhand”, “Bhaisaheb”…”
Mike: Yes that true, and you need to have had Buffet ki cold coffee and Tara wale ki fishes and Grille ka chicken platter. Even 'Aerodine' ka chicken sizzler and Tonic ka view.
Isha ( her eyes twinkling): “ Oh yes and Gaylord ki icecream, Laxmi ka dosa, Maggie Point ki Maggie and Paltan bazar ke Kathlambe.”
Mike: “ Oh wow, so you do know about all the places. So you must know about the Lover’s point.”
Isha: “ Oh yes, MDDA park and Shikhar falls, the most sought-after lover’s point in Dehradun.”
Mike: “ Oh yes, I had my first kiss in MDDA park only.”
Isha ( Laughing): “ Ohoho….sharif bacha.”
Mike and Isha kept talking throughout the journey. When the bus stopped in between at Roorkee, they both had Tea and Maggie but their “ Baatein” never stopped.
Soon, they reached Dehradun ISBT and it was time to part ways. But, both of them were reluctant to stop their conversation. Mike wanted to ask for her number but was hesitant that what will she think of him. Isha wanted him to ask for her number but couldn’t ask herself, thinking that what he will think of her, asking for the number of a boy, she met on the bus.
So finally after they had got down from the bus, she said, “ Okay bye.”
Mike also said “ Bye. See yaa.”
And both went their separate ways, a newfound friendship in the hearts of both but still feeling an uncanny feeling that they won’t meet again.
Just as Mike reached home, his mother hugged him. They all had dinner together, as all the food was prepared according to Mik’s choices only. After having a long conversation with his parents and getting an earful for his long beard, he went to sleep.
He still couldn’t stop thinking about her, Isha. He wasn’t able to see her face clearly but her eyes had said it all. In the dim light of the bus, their conversation had flowed so easily like they had been long-lost friends. Two people who had some eternal connection.
Mike just couldn’t stop thinking about her, their talks, the animated way her eyes had lit up when she was teasing him, and the way she looked so happy when she was talking about food.
Mike fell asleep after the long journey, thinking about the beautiful girl in black who had come into his life and heart so suddenly.
The next morning, Mike’s mom came early in the morning to his room. “ Get up Mikhail, you have to get ready. You have to shave first and then get ready. Come on now wake up.”
Mike was still sleepy. Mom please sone do na, kal he to aya hu,aj subh-subh se ladkiya dikaha shuru kar dogi kya.
Mom: Do din ke liye he to aya hai, bhut sara kaamhai. Chal uth ja jaldi se.
Isha was getting ready for her friend’s wedding when her mom came into the room and said, “ Isha, tumhare liye ek ladka dekha hai humne. Aj who dekhne aa rahe hai tumhe.”
Isha shocked, “ Mom, please yaar. Maine bola toh apko ki mujhe nahi karni abhi shadi and aise ap mere pe bomb kaise gira sakti ho. Kaun hai kya karta hai, kuch to bataya nahi apne and seedhe bol rahe ho ki ladka dekhne aa raha hai.
Mom: Isha maine bataya to tha ki surprize hai. Yehi surpize hai.B.tech hai ladka, IIT Delhi se and MBA hai IIM- Ahmedabad se. 40 lakhs ka package hai. Height 6.1 hai..jaisa tujhe chahiye tha.
Isha: Mom it’s not about height or package. Ladka kaisa hai, kaun hai, bina kuch bataye ap kaise decide kar sakte ho.
Mom: Dekh Isha, now you are twenty-eight. Hum jaldi to kar nahi rahehai…and mai tujhe pehle se batati toh tu kabhi manti nahi. Mujhe ache se patahai ki tera apne purane boyfriend ke sath break-up ho chuka hai, so now ab humari pasand bhi dekh le. Agar nahi pasand aaya to mana kar dena.
Isha: Apko kaise pata mera breakup ho gaya?
Mom: Maa ko sab pata hota hai. Maine ladke ka biodata bhej diya hai tujhe, ek bar padh lena. Aj sham ko uski family ayegi milne. So kapde to yehi sahi hai, yehi pehne rakhna, and baal khule rakhna, ache lagte hai tere lambe baal, pata nahi kyu hamesha yeh cap and clutcher me chupa ke rakhtihai. And new earrings layi hu for you, wear them.
Isha: Mom yaar, aise kaun karta hai.
Mom: Chal tayar ho ja jaldi se, haldi keliye late hojayega.
Mike had already seen two girls since morning and now her mother was dragging him to see the third girl. He was tired after talking about all the nonsense things and getting to know the girl but both of them had not appealed to her.
One of the girls, Urvashi was a fitness freak and had only eaten salad the whole time they had sat in the coffee shop. She had not even taken coffee saying that it is not good for her health. He had felt suffocated with her, self-conscious because he had ordered a burger and she had seen him with such disgust like he had ordered something poisonous.
The next girl he had met was Lavanya. She was cute but her thinking and his didn’t match. She was a very homely kind of girl and she had a fast today of Ekadashi, so she hadn’t eaten anything at all. She was too religious and totally against alcohol, non-veg, and even eating onions at home. He had felt that she was nice, but not the right choice for him.
He didn’t have any more desire to see someone else, but his mom dragged him towards the next conquest. This time they were not meeting at any café or hotel, but rather his father parked the car in front of a beautiful, large house.
He was surprised that they were going to someone’s home to meet the girl. His mother said, “ Mik, Yeh Goyal ji ka ghar hai, tumhare papa ke bhut acche aur purane dost hai. Unki beti hai Ishanvi, bhut sunder hai, she is in RBI, presently working in Chandigarh only. She is also B.tech and MBA. Bhut prestigious job hai, she is also 28. Iska bio-data nahi bheja tha humne tumhe, but shayd dekha hoga tune use, Komal ki shadi me ayyi thi wo.”
Mik: Mom yaar, apne to bola tha 4 ladkiya apne select ki hui hai, ab ap ek fifth girl le aaye.
Mom: Shh, koi sun lega. Dhere bol, bhut acche dost hai tere papa ke and Ishanvi to bhut he acchi hai. Tujhe pasand nahi ayi toh fir mai Shekhar ke liye suggest karungi use. Pehle usi ke liye aya tha uska rishta but mujhe laga pehle tujhe dikhalu, tujhe nahi ayi pasand tab bataungi teri chachi ko, shekar ke liye.
The door opened and a sweet lady opened the door. She might be my mother’s age but didn’t look like it. She was very elegant like her home and was wearing a pink saree and had a sweet smile on her face. I instantly liked her. We went inside and sat.
The lady, whom my mom had called bhabhiji, was presumably Mrs. Goyal, mother of this girl and she kept asking me questions. Surprisingly, I felt at ease answering them.
Aunty: So beta, kahan par posted ho ajkal?
M: Aunty, I am presently in Chandigarh. I am the in-charge of the Chandigarh Office. Waise humari company ka head office to London me hai, I am presently heading the Chandigarh office.
Aunty: That’s nice. Humari Ishanvi bhi Chandigarh me he hai.
Uncle, whom I presumed was Mr.Goyal mereko thode gusse wale lage. He asked, “ So What are your future plans?”
Me: Uncle ,abhi toh I am comfortable in Chandigarh. I feel that Chandigarh is a great place to stay and I plan to be there only. My company might expand in the future, then I may go to Delhi or Kolkata.
Uncle: What about a job switch?
Me: I thought this was like a job interview and a very tricky question. I said, Nahi uncle, here I am getting 40 lakhs per annum CTC and they have outstanding facilities. If I get a hike in the future, I might go for a switch, but I am good here. I don’t feel that money matters so much, as the growth and respect, this company is providing me. Since I am happy here, I would like to stay here.
He smiled. I felt like I had won over the toughest interviewer.
Aunty called her daughter and said, Ishanviiiii, Please come.
I was looking expectantly that who is this girl that my parents are so sure of, who is currently working in RBI and for whom, my parents are even looking to breach the age-long Brahmin casteism.
A beautiful girl, in a light pink lehenga, her long brown hair blowing and her long silver earrings glistening in the wind, came into the room. She must be around 5 feet 7 inches and I noticed that she was wearing no heels. So, she was really tall and really beautiful. And then, when I looked closely at her face, I was dumbstruck and shocked.
She too was looking at me with the same expressions and a look of pure shock. The eyes which I could not forget from last night. The eyes which had told me a million secrets.
We both sat there looking utterly shocked. My parents were asking her some questions and she was answering them so confidently.
My mom asked, “ SoIshanvi beta, kab aye Chandigarh se?”
She: Actyally kal raat he ayi hu aunty. I had gone for a conference in Delhi and had come back last night only.
My Mom: “ Oh, Mike bhi kaal raat he ayahai Delhi se. Kya pata tum dono ko pehle se pata hota to saath he aa jate.”
She ( looking at me teasingly): “ Han ji aunty, pehle pata hota to sath he aa jate. Waise mereko kaal bus me bilkul aisa he dikhne wala ek ladka..”
Me ( interrupting her in between before she could complete her sentence): “ Mom, hum thoda akele me baat kar le.”
My mom, glaring at me but still smilingly said, “ Han beta kyun ahi.”
Her Mom, “ Isha, Mikhil ko terrace dikha lo.”
She got up and I went with her. As soon as I was out of earshot, I took her hand and said, “ Ishnaviiiii….apne to apna naam isha bataya tha.”
She glared at me and said, “ Apne bhi apna naam to Mike bataya tha. Mom said ladke ka naam Mikhil Sharma hai.”
Me: That would be me…Mike is short for Mikhil.
She: “ oh so sweet…so apko khayal nahi aya ki apna pura naam bata do.”
Me: Tumne bhi apna naam Isha he bataya tha…Ishanvi nahi.
She: Nobody calls me Ishanvi, everyone calls me Isha only. Ab itne formal event me mom is calling me that, warna sab mujhe Isha he bulate hai.
Me: Tumne to kaha tha ki tum freelance writer ho??
She( looking embarrassed): Tumhe kya lagta hai ki mai har bus pe milne wale ladke ko yeh bataungi ki mai RBI me Grade B officer hu? I am a freelance writer too, so maine koi jhuth nahi bola, samjhe?
I was a little bit hurt ki usne mujhe hi nahi batya still felt good ki usne aise he kisi aur ko bhi nahi bataya.
She: Tumhare to biodata me likha hai you are a vegetarian and a tea-totaler?
Now it was my turn to turn red. “Hey, you cannot accuse me like that. Woh bio-data meri mom ne banaya hai not maine. So meri fault nahihai. And maine bataya to tha tumhe ki I don’t like to drink, only sometimes I drink due to peer pressure. And yes, I love non-vegetarian food.
And tumhe bhi to bhut pasand hai, I know all your secrets now.
She was blushing. I liked that blush on her. I wanted to kiss her on her cheeks then and there. I couldn’t believe that I was actually meeting the girl I had fallen in love with on the bus, to meet in an arranged marriage scenario.
I said, “ Maine to tumhe pehle he bata diya tha ki mai ladki dekhne aa raha hu. Tumne he kuch nahi bataya. You never told me ki you were coming for the same thing.”
She: Oh mai ladka dekhne nahi aayithi, aj meri friend ki haldi thi, wahin se aa rahi hu abhi. My mom ne aj he mere sir pe yeh bomb phoda hai. I told you na ki she had some surprise for me. You are that surprise.
She muttered something under her breath and although she thought I couldn’t hear it, I did. She had said, “Although I am loving this surprise”.
I asked, “ So, what do you think, you want to get married?”
She looked at him with reluctance in her eyes and said, “ No, I am not ready yet.”
Looking at her I realized that I wanted this girl to be in my life forever. She was everything I had asked for. God had given me a second chance and I was not going to lose this chance at any cost. I took her hands in mine and although she seemed surprised, she did not move away.
I said, “ Isha, for you will always be Isha in my heart. The girl in the black t-shirt, black cap, and a black mask whom I met on the bus to Dehradun. In the beginning, I hadn’t thought much but as we had talked about everything, from food to non-veg recipes, to the best places in Doon, to slang and everything, I fell in love with you. I know it may seem unreal and all that cliché stuff about love at first sight, but it was just like that.
I never knew that a 6-hour journey can change a person’s life but it did change mine. I have not stopped thinking about you since last night. I had you, even in my dreams. But even then I couldn’t imagine that you would look so beautiful without your mask and with your hair down. You are utterly beautiful but more beautiful is your personality. The way you can make anyone yours, your easy-going, happy-go-lucky nature, and the way you make everything enjoyable. I have fallen in love with you last night. Will you be mine, please?”
She was blushing and her cheeks were as pink as per lehenga. She kept looking at her, an unknown emotion in her eyes. I was getting worried that she might say no, so I started rubbing her hands and said, “ Isha please say something. Please..”
It must be the desperateness in my eyes that might have triggered her because the next thing I know, she was kissing me on my cheeks.
I was so shocked, dumbfounded. And then I smiled, laughed, took her in my arms, and hugged her tightly kissing her forehead and her hair.
In the background, I could hear my mom saying to Aunty, “ Bhabhiji, Badhai Ho, Rishta Pakka.”
Isha: “ Waise tum clean-shaven itne acche nahi lag rahe, kal you were looking more handsome in your beard and long hair.”
Mikhil: “ Yeh toh maa ne kata diye, maine bola tha itna ki acche lag rahe hai. Koi nahi ab dobara se badhalunga.”
Isha: “ Han , ab to waise bhi tumne mujhe fasa he liyahai.”