The Vows14 mins 517 14 mins 517
Waking up abruptly from her sleep, as Atreyi checked the clock, it showed a few minutes past 3:00AM. “Devil’s hour”, she chuckled and thought. Gulping down a bit of water from the bottle kept on bedside rack, she gingerly walked out into the living room, rubbing her eyes.
“Office work? Got to submit any report?” She asked Arnav, who was sitting on the sofa with his long hawk-nose almost buried deep into his laptop, with the light from the screen defining his chiseled, stubbled jawline.
“Hey, not really, “ Arnav said, greeting her with a smile, “Come here” he gestured.
Atreyi came and sat beside him, glancing at the screen. He pointed to an excel file that he had clearly been meticulously working on. “Look,” he said, “I chalked out three options for covering all the countries. This third option is the costliest, because it includes a very expensive train journey to Jungfraujoch….also call Top of Europe…..you know why? Because it’s the highest railway station in Europe! We should not miss this journey. The only hiccup here is…” he paused, while opening another of the innumerable tabs that he had kept open on his screen, “ ..weather! You see? This one’s a live camera that keeps capturing the view from atop Jungfraujoch. As of now, it shows all cloudy. So I’m just anxious that on whichever day during our stay at Switzerland, we find the weather sunny….we must go” he smiled nervously.
“I get it” said Atreyi, bending over his shoulder, looking into the screen; when she was startled by a sleepy voice calling her, “Ma!”
“What happened , why are you awake?” She asked, as she hurriedly rushed to little Aryan, her son…who had stepped out of his own room. At roughly six year age, Aryan had started taking after his mother with curly hair, fair complexion and light brown eyes.
“What are you and Dad doing? I woke up as I heard you both talk..” Aryan said, sleepily putting his head on his mother’s shoulder as she knelt down before him.
“Come here, son…I’ll show you..” Arnav said cheerfully, hearing which Aryan ran to him and sat on the sofa beside him.
“Woooww” Aryan said, “You both will be visiting these places?” Aryan exclaimed, with a wide grin on his face, all of his sleep brushed off at once.
“Yes….so you approve of the places?” Arnav asked him with a wink.
“Hmm..let me think….YES!” Aryan exclaimed, giving Arnav a high-five.
“Aryan, come…I’ll put you to sleep..” Atreyi said.
“no Ma…please, I’m not even going with you..at least let me hear about these places from Papa,” Aryan begged.
“You will! But, over the weekend. If you sit with your Papa now, you won’t be getting up until dawn.,” Atreyi scorned.
“It’s ok, I’ll put him to sleep in his room in five minutes, and be right there with you” Arnav assured Atreyi, “rather you go and sleep…you are looking more sleepy than Aryan”. Aryan giggled hearing this, as Atreyi rolled her eyes and went off to her room. Closing the door, as she settled on to her spot in the bed, she could hear Arnav telling bone chilling stories of mountaineers who tried climbing the infamous Eiger Northface, the mountain that was supposed to be visible from the stay they had booked at Grindelwald. With an unknown feeling of warmth gushing all over herself, and a gentle smile on her face; Atreyi gradually fell into a deep slumber.
“Hello…didi, tell me how’s your honeymoon planning going on !” Maitreyi exclaimed on the other side of the phone.
“Mats, I know you keep bunking classes at your college, but does that also mean I have no work at office?” Atreyi asked her younger sister over phone, trying to adjust the phone, a coffee mug and a laptop in her hands.” It’s 11o’ clock on a busy Wednesday morning and you are asking me about this hon…wait, what? Honeymoon? Did you just say it? Are you mad?!”
“What else would you call it!” Maitreyi giggled, ”It’s the first trip after your marriage! I think I am more excited because Aryan will be free from your discipline for some days”
“Ya very funny,“ Atreyi laughed, “it’s going to be less than a fortnight.”
“Didi, I so want to be there with Aryan….” Maitreyi tried saying.
“It’s okay, Mats.“ Atreyi replied.
She sat down at an isolated table in the cafeteria, sipped her coffee, and explained, “You know the reasons, sweet girl, don’t you? See…you and Mummy have always taken care of Aryan whenever I went on business trips..ever since he was two year old..ever since Adwait…anyways, ..haven’t you? This time…Arnav’s parents WANT to utilize the time to get along with him. And I think it’s important that I let him know his other set of grandparents…especially when they themselves are so eager…you see? Flying all the way down from Delhi.” Atreyi paused, and asked in a lighter tone, “And anyways, Mats …..aren’t you supposed to study and at least attend Masters classes? With your semester exams around the corner you’re still talking about flying down from Kolkata to play with Aryan? Seriously !” she scorned.
“Anything for my little bundle of joy,“ Maitreyi replied, “okay, Didi, I called to cheer you up. I know it’s tearing you apart to leave Aryan behind. But just go for it. We promise we won’t force you for another such trip until Aryan grows up. And anyways, you and Arnav didn’t follow any of the rituals of wedding…you guys did a boring court marriage..no saat phere around the fire, no exchanging vows ….so at least follow this ritual of honeymoon !” she laughed.
“You are talking too much these days, Mats…” Atreyi scolded, ”okay now leave the phone ..I’ve got a meeting”.
Hanging one big rucksack on back, and one smaller back-pack on the front each, Arnav and Atreyi got down from the train at the beautiful city of Lucerne in Switzerland.
“Wow..we just landed at Zurich and we are already touristy,” Atreyi grinned, looking around, soaking in the sunshine as they stepped out of the railway station. It was a seventy minute stop en route to their final destination of Interlaken. Completing the precious walk along the Chapel Bridge, they rushed back with the heavy bags to the station to continue their journey on the Golden Pass train….which promised the most serene Alpine views.
“Now I’m glad Aryan isn’t going through this,“ Atreyi laughed, panting as she tried to catch her breath in the train.
“Hehe…..Agreed. I miss him though. Next trip we are definitely not going without him,” Arnav said, wrapping his arm around her, “okay, look outside. I chose this seat on right side for you; because I had researched and learnt that this side has better views….as we have the mountains this way!”
Sitting down, she asked him in a perplexed way, “Won’t you like to sit this side then?”
“Relax, I’ll anyways keep shuffling among seats for photography..” Arnav said, as he continued clicking pictures.
“Oh yeah..how can I forget!”, Atreyi joked, “I was enjoying my solo backpacking at the Scottish Highlands! I was a single mother, who had left her four-year-old son with her parents and had just wrapped up groundwork for an important project at her London office. All I wanted was some me-time at this remote corner, while trying to push away concerns about what my son was doing and how the project was going to go-live after a few months. But then this man arrived from nowhere and kept clicking photos; while talking about the history of the formations of the Highlands!”
“Thank God you were the only available soul there,“ Arnav laughed, fondly remembering, “at least that way I got to know you”.
“Okay now, focus on the scenery,“ he said, pointing to the window, “I’ve been to the Alps before. This trip is more about you. Ever since you told me you had liked the way they had portrayed the Alps in Cartoon Network’s ‘Heidi’….I had planned to bring you here.”
After spending an entire day exploring green meadows and flowery roads of Interlaken, they headed further uphill to Grindelwald.
Sitting at the balcony of their accommodation, as Arnav sipped his tea staring passionately at the Eiger Northface, Atreyi came out from the room and checked his temperature.
“You have been coughing ever since we got onto the flight. Now there’s slight temperature too. Aren’t the medicines working?” She asked.
“Aah…it’s just a cold….it’s not going to be too harmful but yeah, it won’t go easily either, “Arnav said, sniffling, “don’t worry it’ll be fine If I have a medicine and sleep well tonight”.
“Atreyi…Atreyi..hey” Arnav kept nudging her next morning.
“Hmmmm what is it?” enquired a sleepy Atreyi.
“Listen….I just checked the live webcam. It’s so sunny and bright at Jungfraujoch today.”
“Really? “ Atreyi exclaimed, sitting up, “How about your cold? If you’re fine then let’s go !” she said, sniffling.
Arnav stared at her face…her eyes were puffy and face swollen. He checked her temperature, and she was warm, indeed. ”You too got the flu from me” he said, disheartened.
“Don’t worry Arnav! Let’s do it….one paracetamol and I’ll be fine!” Atreyi ensured.
Over the next couple of days, two figures could be seen stumbling along…some times wrapped in woolens, all the way up the Jungfraujoch peak, coughing and sneezing, amidst snow; some times humming their favorite songs in hoarse voices despite sore throats and hiking up to the heavenly Bachalpsee lake, sitting by the waters for hours silently, waiting for the clouds to go so that they could see the magical reflection of the majestic peaks; some times walking along the cliff edge panting and sniffling.
Atreyi was feeling a tinge of melancholy as she sat with Arnav, sipping a hot soup at a very cozy restaurant in Salzburg, with the view of the Castle.
“Who are you missing? Aryan or the Alps?” Arnav asked, understanding her emotions.
“Haha! both, I guess?” Atreyi said, “Although I shouldn’t be missing the Alps, yet….we still have them in Salzburg, although not as majestic as the Swiss Alps” she said, pointing to the distant mountains.
Arnav looked at her sparkling eyes, and smiled. “I know Adwait had taken you to the Maldives. It was a relaxed vacation in exotic resorts…just the way most newly weds would want it to be. Be honest and tell me, did I make this trip too hectic for you?” he asked.
Atreyi looked at him, and said in a tone of accusation, “Of course you did.”
“Really?” Arnav asked, slightly baffled.
“Yes! My God, Arnav…..I felt like I was whooshing right into the core of heaven, as our train rode up the steep slopes, with the sceneries outside transitioning from lush greens to mighty snowy mountains, towards Jungfraujoch. Isn’t that a horrible feeling? And what was with all that sitting by turquoise lakes, surrounded by patches of glacial reminiscence amidst green moorlands, letting the calmness soak in? Who wants that kind of therapeutic outing? Forget outings…..even our stay was somewhere amidst forests on the slopes……with the mountain peaks staring right at our face as I removed the curtains. And as I opened the window, I was greeted by sweet jingling sound from the bells of the cows grazing around, or by visions of colorful paragliding...so disappointing …”
By this time…Arnav had burst into laughter, ”okay enough…I take it back”, he said.
“You better do! What a lame question that was,” Atreyi laughed, “Maldives were lovely. But I wish I could explore them more. I couldn’t fit in Adwait’s world where everything had to be fixated upon. He was a decent person, but I couldn’t meet his expectation where he demanded me to pamper him even at the slightest of his sneezing, or where he thought it was reasonable to spend time indoor even on vacations to avoid tan, or where he took more time than me in dressing up before hitting the streets. We were just, different.”
“Speaking of tan, Atreyi,” Arnav said, suddenly remembering something, "you must keep the sunscreen handy for Croatia…..because, we are going to spend our days and nights at the beaches. It’s going to be wild, baby…..so take as much rest as you want here in Salzburg. Croatia is going to be crazy!”
“Arnav, seriously, it’s been ages I’ve worn these….I’m kind of not-so-comfortable in swim-wears any more,” Atreyi told him in a hushed voice, while considering whether to remove her overall cover, that she had thrown over the swim suit.” let me be in this swimwear-cover, okay? Anyways I can’t swim so I won’t venture into the sea”
“Don’t be mad, Atreyi !” Arnav laughed, “This is Zlatni Rat! One of the most beautiful beaches of Croatia. If you don’t busk in the sunshine here, you don’t let go of yourself completely and just enjoy all of it…then what’s the point? You know what? You are getting into the sea with me, and then you are going to take a nice sun-tan!”
“Me? Sun tan? “ Atreyi laughed aloud, “I’m already super weirdly tanned! And thanks to our experimenting with all the food and drinks over last few days….I don’t think I have that figure to don a swimsuit any more! You yourself will be scared and run away from me if I wear that” she said, turning away from Arnav, attempting to go further up the beach away from the water, tying her hair up into a bun.
“Shhhhhh…listen to me, “ Arnav said, this time in a serious tone, grasping Atreyi’s arm firmly, turning her around to himself; in the process letting her curly hair fall back from the bun, on her face while she wrapped her hand around his neck instinctively to keep herself from falling due to the sudden motion. Fixing his gaze onto hers with a hint of anguish, he said, ”You…were the most beautiful woman I had had ever seen, when I had seen you for the first time amidst those magical highlands. Over the next two years during which I got to know you better both in terms of your qualities and your flaws, you only kept becoming more beautiful for me. And I was so busy finding you beautiful, that I barely noticed if any of your physical features changed in the process. Even if they did, I wouldn’t have given a damn. Both of us were happy, independent individuals of the same age, at peak of our career and travel goals, when we met……you, a single, divorced Mom…myself a bachelor…none of us too keen on rushing into marriage. But, as I got to know you more, I realized if there was anything on this earth I was most sure of, it was this: if I would ever settle in life, it would be with you and Aryan, or I would remain a bachelor happily.”
“Ok…” Atreyi gulped and stammered, “wh…why are you suddenly so worked up, Arnav?”
“Nothing,“ he replied, softening his grip on her arm, stroking away the hair from her face with the other hand, “don’t ever talk of me running away from you.”
“Okay, I won’t,” Atreyi said, mellowing down from her usual gutsy self in a long, long time, as she let the goosebumps on her bare skin from Arnav’s touch sink in.
Holding her hand, Arnav led her into the clear blue sea. Atreyi glided slowly over the pebbles under water, consciously so that she wouldn’t slip and fall, and let herself float; while Arnav enjoyed swimming at a little distance. Atreyi didn’t know how long she lay afloat like that, with her eyes closed, feeling weightless, letting herself be sun-kissed, while the rhythmic sound of sea waves splashing over and withdrawing from the pebbles hushed down all the other noises in her soul.
She came out of that dazed state as Arnav brushed his fingers through her hair, saying , “Enjoyed? Would you like to see the sunset?”
At Zlatni Rat, the beach protruded into the sea. So they had to walk across the stretch of pebbles to the other side to view the sunset. On that side the sea too responded back to the purple-and-crimson-hued sky, with waves of similar color trying to reach the sun. On the other side, the sea and the sky were already darker.
“Atreyi, I want to tell you something..” Arnav said, putting his palm over hers, as they both sat relaxed on the beach, “I’ve told you this earlier as well…but you don’t take me seriously”
Atreyi, partially guessing what he wanted to say, teased him playfully, “Really? What is it?” She said, putting her head on his shoulder, wrapping his arm in her hands.
Bringing his other arm forward, Arnav cupped her face and brought it very close to his own. Brushing past her lips, he brought his lips to her ears, and whispered, “Atreyi….you really need to learn swimming!”
“What?!” Atreyi startled, embarrassed, “You’re so mean, Arnav…leave me..” she said, as she struggled to come out of his grip, while he tightened his arms around her, laughing hysterically.
“Of course, Atreyi..I mean..what WAS that?! You were lying still in water….even the kids around were swimming away. It would have been so much more fun if you could have swam !” Arnav justified.
“It’s ok…I enjoyed …it was a very healing experience…you won’t understand” Atreyi said, faking her irritation.
“Okay..…you are getting enrolled in a swimming class once we are back to Mumbai. I too will go with you”, he said.
“And you will come to the gym with me, deal?” Atreyi traded.
Smiling down at these two souls busy in exchanging vows, the sun spread its last rays of holy fire, and retired for the day below the distant horizon, by the sea.