That day, ten years back when Madhav had called me up, he had sounded very low. I could instantaneously sense something was wrong with him.
I need to talk to you. Could you come by at the Ganga canal, old bridge at around 5 in the evening?”
Yes, of course, Madhav. That should be fine. Are you okay? I mean, how have you been? Anything important?
Madhav didn’t respond for a minute.
I will talk to you at the canal. He said with some effort before hanging up.
Madhav was the only son of a small hotel owner at Kanathal, a picturesque town at Uttaranchal. Since Kanathal did not offer good schooling prospects, Madhav was sent over to his maternal aunt’s place at Roorkee to carry out his schooling. Madhav spent his days studying at Roorkee and left for Kanathal during the holidays. He was the quintessential small-town boy with a golden heart, laid back and easy going. He was the kind of guy who would never hurt anyone and was happy to help anyone in need.
Over the years he had grown into a handsome boy. He was tall, sleek, fair and had the face of a child. His good looks, as well as his sensitive, considerate nature, made him popular with girls. He, however, was very shy with girls. I was an exception though and had been his friend for the last eight years. Our friendship started in standard 4, with Madhav sharing his alloo parathas with me and I help him with school work.
Madhav accepted his studious, but goofy and forgetful friend and lunch mate with alacrity. Unlike me, who had an aim to get into an IIT, Madhav was far from being ambitious. He planned to complete a course in hotel management and help his father manage the hotel back at Kanathal. He was all set for an idyllic life and he loved the idea. He loved nature, wrote poetry and was looking forward to falling in love with someone special. But, of course, life has other plans.
So, it turned out that Madhav was heartbroken. He had fallen for a girl who he had met as a part of a marriage party at his hotel. The girl was remarkably beautiful and Madhav had guessed that she belonged to the upper echelons of the society. The girl was keen to explore the beauty of Kanathal and Madhav happily guided her. For the next few days, Madhav and she spent considerable time together and developed a friendship. It was on the eighth day that Madhav realized that she was the one getting married. Apparently, Madhav was misled, for she never mentioned about her impending marriage to him.
The new discovery left Madhav dejected and hurt. The girl apologized profusely, but to no avail. A few hours before the marriage ceremony, Madhav mustered some courage and proposed to her. She was surprised but did not utter a word, leaving Madhav in a paradox. The girl got married leaving Madhav broken.
Madhav had cried inconsolably at the canal side while relating the string of incidents to me.
She was the most beautiful girl. Petite, with child-like innocence and body of a celestial nymph. That does not happen. Such girls are not supposed to exist. Not in real life. I simply could not take my eyes off her the first time I saw her. She was poetry personified. Life personified. The sound of her laughter, the colors of her dress, her smile -- everything about her was so vibrant. The way she smiled at me often, I had thought her smile was only for me. It was all nothing but deceit.
But Madhav, she never said she loved you or was going to marry you. She made no false promises. I had said.
Madhav retorted What do you think I am? An idiot? He stopped a bit, composed himself and said, she knew I was head over heels in love with her. She knew I could do anything for her. She used me and my emotions. I cannot forget her. She is married to someone else. And I have no hope. She has left me with no zest for life.
But it could have been a misunderstanding. Perhaps she did not know you liked her or realized it too late. I stressed again.
Madhav looked up to me, still shaking his head in negative.
I continued, Perhaps, she also liked you and wanted to spend time with you. She is a 19-year-old girl, and her life was going to turn upside down. She was too young to fight the action and perhaps she gave in. If she did not enjoy your company she would not have held on to you for those few days, risking her reputation.
Whatever you say, I am not going to forgive her. Ever. Why couldn’t she take a stand and come with me if she was afraid of her marriage and liked me instead? I don’t know if it was her cowardice or deceit, but she ruined my life. I was there all through her wedding, half expecting that at any point she might call out my name, but she did not. I was a witness to her ceremony. I saw her with her groom. I wanted to die. I want to die now.
Madhav was on verge of tears. I did not say anything. Anything I said could hurt him more. We were quiet for some time. I threw a few pebbles in the canal and looked at the ripples intently.
Look at these ripples Madhav. They are short-lived. They don’t survive. To flow is the only nature of a river. You also will come out of this.
It, not a ripple. It’s a whirlpool. I am in great turmoil. Tell you what; she did not give me a chance because I was a nobody. I have realized that the d has no place for simpletons like me. I don’t want my simple life. I don’t want to spend my days dreaming. I will be somebody. I will expand my guest house and take it to the next level. But I need resources and expertise for it. I have decided to get an MBA. I would not rest until I achieve something. And only once that I become successful, I will start afresh. I will be happy again. I will marry a girl with a modest upbringing like mine. She would be a self-made person. An average looking girl would do. These rich and beautiful girls are the worst. They are vain and cruel, with no consideration for other feelings.
But your girl did not sound vain. Had she been vain, she would not have apologized to you. You both fell for each other. She did not have the courage to fight her parents and to bring shame to her family. That happens with many girls. No matter how poor or ugly they are. That happens even with the boys. Love must be sacrificed at times.
It is me who has been sacrificed. Why is it only me who is paying for her sacrifice? While she is basking in marital bliss, honeymooning with her new-found love. The very thought of her being with another man drives me crazy. I don’t like being crazy. I am not myself. Only if this had never happened. If only I had never met her. I have no peace.
He stood up to leave and then said with determination I would never like to meet her again. But if that does happen I would want her to see and regret what she rejected. I would show how a small-town boy can be the best hotelier in the country.
I could only wish him all the best. That was the last time I met Madhav.
I often wondered why the girl’s family which was supposedly rich selected Madhav’s small hotel for the ceremony. Why was Madhav unable to figure out about the would-be bride until the last day? Did the girl deliberately keep Madhav in dark? There was more to this than I could fathom. Or was I simply thinking too much like always? Who could tell?
For the next year and half, Madhav studied religiously and spent his time attending coaching classes, taking mock tests, studying and practicing hard for the CAT exam. Whenever he called me up it was either about reference books or his preparation strategy. He stressed to me each time how important it was for him to get into a renowned B-school. I want to belong to a good brand. It matters a lot. I, at that time, as preparing to crack the GRE test for I had plans for higher studies in the States. Madhav had gradually transformed himself into an alous student, a glib talker, and a voracious reader.
His hard work and dedication paid, and he made it to one of the best business schools in India.
Years passed, and I secured a comfortable job at New Jersey. Madhav was by now a big shot. He had started a chain of resorts at the outskirts of Mumbai in partnership with a well-known builder. The luxury resorts had a rustic touch and provide a getaway from the busy city life. The concept, look and feel, choice of location and immaculate service made the resorts very popular. Madhav was quite successful in his endeavor but he did not stop. He was hungry for more.
I was in touch with Madhav, but our conversions over the e had become infrequent. I thought about Madhav every now and then but did not feel like calling him up. He had changed. His talks about business plans and expansions did not interest me. I could hardly relate to him. The only development about Madhav life which interested me was that Madhav was thinking of marriage. Tabloid news was rife of a young actress dating him. But it must not be serious, I mused or else he would have told me. Also, I was not sure if Madhav had been able to come out of his prejudices against rich and beautiful women.
I was surprised to receive Madhav’s call that morning.
After the usual greetings and Oh it’s been so long! clichés.
Madhav said. I met her.
Who? I exclaimed
Her, he said with added emphasis.
Her? That girl you meet at your father’s hotel years back?
Did she come to holiday at your resort?
No. Well actually, she has taken up a job with our group.
Oh. I thought she was quite well off.
I thought that too.
What about her then?
Changed? Isn’t she as beautiful now?
No. She is even more beautiful. The thing is that I don’t want her around. Her presence brings out all my negativity. I shower her with snide remarks and deliberately discourage her. I don’t enjoy that, but I cannot help it. I want her to leave the job and go.
What difference would that make? I sighed. You are never going to move over her. She has always been a part of life.
That is not true. I want to move on. I am rich and successful. I have worked very hard. I want to enjoy my success, but I cannot. I feel suffocated. I want to lash out on her. I want to make her realize what she lost. It’s payback time. I want to hurt her. But she is unaffected. She is so immune to my words. As if she has always been used to hearing nothing but bitter words. She hardly smiles. The young and vivacious girl I knew has turned to a somber shadow who looks like her but is not her.
Do you want to know more about her? Perhaps she has some problems.
Who does not have problems? My biggest problem is her. I curse the day even I first saw her.
“Why is she back?
Seems like Madhav did not get the sweet revenge he had wished for. He had dreamt about crushing the girl’s pride and making her lament about her choice. But it was no challenge to him. She had already given up. She had resigned to her fate.
Madhav had now realized that the girl was leading a drabber life than his and that life was perhaps the same punishment to her as he thought it was to him. It is one thing to berate and chastise the one you love one for leaving you. It is another thing to watch them in pain.
I wondered why the girl was back, now that Madhav was finally thinking about settling down. It would make things difficult for him. He had hardly ever stopped thinking about her. She was there with him only for 10 days. But for the next 10 years, she was the one for his decisions, career-choices, and goals. Strange, but true.
I was booking my flight tickets for a short vacation back home when I received an email invite.
It was a wedding invitation and from none other than Madhav. Madhav weds Meera!
Now, who was Meera? Why didn’t Madhav call me about his marriage? I grabbed a pillow and thrust my fist a few times into it. I picked up my phone and called up Madhav. He did not pick up the phone. I left a rude message on his phone and got back to what I was doing.
But what was I doing? Oh yes, booking my flight tickets. Vacation! I am going back home. Home sweet home. Ahaaaaaa
“But don’t I mean anything to Madhav. How dare he emails me his wedding Invite like I was just an acquaintance? I will go back to India and kill Madhav.
Madhav called up an hour later. I did not want to pick up his phone but that would make it so easy for him. He did not deserve to have an easy way out after what he did it me. I bravely picked up my phone and lashed. How dare you! How dare you decide to marry and not let me know.
I am sorry.
You better be. I said no more. I did not have anything else to say.
I am marrying Her”
Her? The mystery girl who broke your heart! But she is already married. Isn’t she?
Oh. I said and added with compassion You were finally able to forgive her?
Yes. Just like she was able to forgive me for being an idiot. Life had been unfair to her. She has been through a lot. Can you imagine she was married of a terminally ill son of a business tycoon, so they could have a male heir? It was a discreet arranged between their families.
And when her husband died leaving her with a baby girl she was abandoned. She put up on her own all those years. Fending for herself and her daughter.
I am speechless, Madhav. She’s a very brave girl.
So, she is. I am lucky to have her.
Madhav and Meera’s was the most beautiful wedding I had ever attended. It was a low-key affair arranged meticulously at the ISCON Temple. The bride looked resplendent and her daughter was a lovely creature.
I was going through a tough patch in personal life at that time. I was at the end of my tether in my relationship. A tete-e-tete with Madhav made me look at things from a different perspective.
When I look back, I see how wrong I was to judge her. My love for her was overshadowed by my jealousy. Her rejection had hurt my ego. If we value love above the feelings which develop due to our own inadequacies and complexes, the word can be a paradise.
I was all smiling. Madhav and Meeras story had reinstated my faith in love. Indeed love, which is unconditional and non-judgmental conquers all.