The soothing music was abruptly converted into noise as my earphones were pulled out. Suddenly peace transformed into chaos.
“Why do you always have to do this Manish?” I said glaring at him.
He gave a mischievous grin. Nothing had changed since the last time we met.
Before I could realize what was happening, Manish was sitting in front of me with two cups of coffee.
I wasn’t in a great state of mind to enjoy coffee but couldn’t refuse him either.
“I think I have decided what I want in life,” I said.
He seemed to have a confident look on his face. Taking a sip of coffee he asked, “That sounds interesting. What do you plan to do?”
I paused for a while. Three to four gulps of coffee went in before I felt like telling him about my plans.
“I need some time before I can get into the wedlock,” I said in a hesitant tone.
“I had asked for the same, couple of weeks back,” he said with a careless laugh.
“We all deserve our time and space. We have only one life and we need to live it,” he continued.
“I need more time… not just a few months,” I said with discomfort. “We might have to be away for long. I am not sure what decision we would need to take.”
There was an abrupt silence between us. He looked at me intensely. That very instant, I knew, he was deeply hurt with my decision. We sat in silence for seconds looking at each other. We knew what was coming our way.
He got a grip on himself and asked, “Where are you going, Trishna?”
I dared not spill the beans so soon.
“Please tell me, Trishna,” he said in a desperate tone.
“I am going to pursue M.S. from Queensland University. I cleared the online entrance examination. They have asked me to write back accepting the position after completing the application formalities,” I continued, taking the last sip of my cold coffee. “Yuck!!” Coffee was bitter and so was his expression.
“Queensland… Australia?” he asked, digesting the news. “So, how long will you be away?” he finally managed to ask.
“Three years,” I said bluntly.
“If I am not wrong M.S. takes 2 years,” he said in a contradictory tone.
“Yes, it does, but I have opted for one extra year of internship. The future prospects are good,” I replied confidently.
“When did you decide about this?” Manish asked while his expression said, “Why didn’t you care to tell me before deciding?”
“That day, when you decided to postpone the engagement and wedding,” I replied. My words were like poisoned arrows that cut across his heart.
“Oh, so you are back to the same topic? Please stop this drama, Trishna,” he retorted. “I did not postpone our engagement and wedding. In fact, I never wanted an early engagement. It was what our families wanted,” he added. “Didn’t you want the same thing to happen?” he asked looking at me with an expression that said just-say-you-wanted-the-same-thing-to-happen.
“No, I wanted to have our engagement and wedding at the right time. I was convinced that this was the right time,” I said firmly. “For once, think about our families, Manish,” I said in a pleading manner.
“I am a family oriented man. I know what I am doing is not going to affect anyone. I know how to convince them, but I think, I can never persuade you to believe in me,” he said in a dejected tone.
“You had your own selfish reasons that you are naming as career plans. If you had bothered once about my future plans you would have helped me out by guiding me,” I snapped back.
The conversation heated up.
“Everyone is looking at you, Trishna, please calm down. There’s nothing to get furious about,” Manish said trying to ease our conversation. “I have my career plan set, Trishna; I needed your help and support. I thought you could understand and try letting me out of the muddle I am in at my current workplace.”
“Your career plans are plans, what about mine?” I said in anger.
“Go ahead, who’s stopping you?” he replied in an eased out manner.
“That’s exactly what I am doing,” I smirked.
“You are seeking revenge. This is not called a career plan. You never discussed about your plans to do your masters, that too from Australia.”
Abrupt silence again.
“How can you decide something like that without asking me?” the question was fired at me.
“Am I getting married to you to ask your permission?” I fired back.
“You are full of sarcasm and vengeance, Trishna,” he said with disgust. “Just because I wanted to postpone our wedding, you are doing this to me and our families. Why, Trishna? Can you give me a logical explanation?” he asked.
I could read from his eyes, he had lost half the battle. He knew very well that once I had decided upon something I wouldn’t budge easily. I had been in the same state two weeks ago. The complete dilemma I was in got wiped out only when I met my professor who helped me to decide what was best for my future.
“Trishna, you are acting childish. Please don’t take such impulsive decisions. We’ll sort it out. You can have a bright future here. I’ll help you complete your masters in India,” he said. “You just need to be near me,” he said after a pause.
I felt triumphant when I heard these words, but even that could not hold me back. I calmed myself down and explained to him about my future prospects, career plans, growth and the Skype meeting I had with the professor. He heard me out in complete silence.
“It won’t be long, Manish,” I said reassuringly. “I am not seeking revenge. I am just taking out time to do something for myself. You needed 6 months and I need 3 years.”
He swayed his head from side to side showing complete disagreement.
“Three years is too long. Think about our families. They have become so close,” he said in an attempt to convince me emotionally.
I had discussed about my plans with both our parents. My parents were reluctant to support me, but I had to take a stand.
“Manish, I thank you for doing things against my wish. At least, I am inspired to do something for my happiness and not for others,” I said with a smile.
He smiled back.
“At least you are happy about something… So when are you leaving for Australia, Trishna?” he asked.
The look on his face suggested that he had reached that stage of acceptance. I knew he still loved me the same way but was also disappointed with my decision.
“Next Sunday. The flight is at 10 PM. Are you coming to see me off?” I asked anxiously.
“I’ll think about it. I am not happy with your decision, but if you feel it’s a good career option, I wouldn’t stop you.”
I felt relieved.
“Thanks so much for understanding,” I told him, genuinely.
He didn’t respond to anything I said. He had tried to accept the fact but hadn’t been able to come to terms with his feelings. I tried not to overdo my explanation at this point.
It was getting late so we bade each other good bye. I was hoping to regain my normal composure by the next day. Still, as I walked back, I felt a stabbing pain within. On one hand I was happy to have decided something about my future and on the other hand I wasn’t prepared to hurt him with my decision.
I went home only to find my parents sitting gloomily and also hoping at the same time that I might have changed my decision.
His parents had the same reaction when he reached home. That’s what I could make out after eavesdropping on my mother’s conversation.
Over the course of one year our parents had grown closer than us. While we seemed to be growing further apart.
He did not come to the airport. He called to say goodbye and alibis to prove that he was absolutely normal. Our parents were lamenting the fact that we were heading towards a sour relationship. They didn’t want us to give up on each other because of this distance.
The last text I received from him before leaving for Australia read, “I love you and always will.”
Tears welled up in my eyes and dried only when I landed in Australia.
The University and hostel campus were good. I had made couple of scholar friends online. It didn’t seem a strange place to me because of their presence.
Rumor had it that Indians were not treated well in Australia. I was concerned about that and so were my parents. There were frequent calls, at least twice or thrice a day in the initial few weeks.
A challenging journey was ahead of me and I somehow had to walk through it. A month passed without any hassles at the University. I had slight trouble in getting adjusted to the lifestyle of the people around. I liked sleeping early but the hectic schedule in the morning made me work harder in order to catch up with the professors’ pace. Everything else seemed normal except for my mind that couldn’t be at peace.
I wanted to share my daily experiences with someone close back in India, but I had self-imposed restraints. I didn’t call Manish once I reached Australia, neither did he. He chose all other options to know about me like enquiring from my parents and asking his parents to call me instead.
I felt that urge to just give him a call at random hours and tell him that I was missing his company but the time difference made me step back. I was one of those non-nagging girlfriends any boy could ever ask for. I didn’t know being that way could lead to cracks in a relationship.
I tried to convince myself that he was still not out of the deeply wounded phase. My parents were normal with me and seemed quite happy at hearing of my progress at the University. There were talks about Manish in between. The same story was repeated time and again. The blame game was played occasionally, with me ending up in tears.
I was living my ambition, but I was hoping this wouldn’t break our relationship apart. It wasn’t the first time we were fighting. Similar disagreements, misunderstandings had happened in the past which of course had gone unnoticed by our parents. Once our families got involved everything was out in the open. His parents were supportive and always wished for my bright future. They wished for us to patch up soon.
I read up articles on websites and tried talking to my friends online so that I could somehow stop feeling the breeze of cold feelings between us. But our egos had formed a thick wall.
I always had the urge to call him when it was past midnight in India. He was involved in his work seriously. Staying away from him, not being able to talk to him or convey my thoughts to him made me introspect those aspects of my behavior which he had tolerated all this while. I tried understanding his views when he was concentrating on his career move and had plainly refused to get into the wedlock. Though, he had realized later that the wedding wasn’t going to affect his work so much as he had assumed. In fact, he said he needed my presence.
Once when I had asked about his work his mother had told me, “He’s not in that enthusiastic state of mind these days. He works 24/7 and occasionally hangs out with friends. We know how sad he is feeling inside after you left for Australia. The excitement of arranging a wedding isn’t there in our family anymore.” “Please try talking to him whenever you find time,” she had added in a worried tone.
The next day had become terrible for me at the University. I couldn’t even concentrate during an important guest lecture. My roommate also noticed the dull look on my face. Thinking that I was feeling aloof in a new world, she planned a Saturday night party with friends.
I had never been to any party or concert without Manish. We had a large circle of friends. While I was getting ready I could remember the last concert of Lucky Ali which we had attended. I was wearing the same top today. However, partying revived my so called dull spirit.
I was slightly high on alcohol by the time I returned and had one night of peaceful sleep. For once, I had only memories from our happy past. It was 4 AM when my alarm went blaring, jolting me up from my sleep. I looked at my phone and switched the alarm off. Five minutes later I struggled to open my eyes realizing the motive of the alarm. It was past midnight and I was not the first one to call Manish on his birthday this time.
First, a deep sense of regret washed over me, and then my heart skipped a beat when I realized that I had forgotten to add enough currency to make a long call to India. I had to manage with the amount I had. I called him. His phone was busy.
I waited for ten minutes and tried again. The phone was still busy. I felt a surge of emotions within. Manish would never talk on the phone for so long with anyone except me. I stopped analyzing the situation for a while. A million thoughts crossed my mind; probably he had moved on and was busy conversing with his new girlfriends.
I didn’t feel like calling him again. I lost all courage to talk to him. The very next moment there was a call from him.
“Hello,” he said.
I was on cloud nine.
“Hiiiiiiiiii! It’s me, Trishna,” I said excitedly.
I sang the complete birthday song before he was allowed to react.
He was chuckling on the other side. His excitement was evident. Moments later he seemed to realize that I was not in India and said, “So, how are you doing? Not interested in talking to Indians?”
“Who said so?” I snapped back. “I talk to Indians more frequently than you try talking to Australians”.
“How have you been, Trishna? It has been over two months since we last spoke,” Manish said in a saddened tone.
Unable to talk about my current state I diverted the conversation towards my day to day activities at the University. I asked him about his work life in Hyderabad. We discussed about our parents and how anxious they were to see us together.
During this casual conversation I suddenly recalled that Manish’s phone was engaged for quite some time when I had tried his number.
“Whom were you talking to for so long Manish?” I enquired in a soft tone keeping my fingers crossed and wishing it wasn’t a girl.
“Errrrr… ummm…” he stammered before blurting out the name I didn’t want to hear.
There was a stunned silence. I could only hear the sound of the moving fan.
I regained my composure and said, “Oh! That’s nice. So, how is she doing?”
I went green with jealousy. I had dreaded it and it had come true. I had always hated her. My thoughts drifted to the day when I had to meet his parents for the first time and he had invited Shikha also. I was furious. The explanation I got was that he was nervous and wanted her to be around so that she could help get things moving between me and his parents. I did agree with that fact, but I certainly didn’t want any other girl to act as a buffer between me and his parents. Once it was time for us to get engaged or married, Shikha drifted a bit away and gave us our time. Being the nice human being that she was, she never failed to make me envy the ease with which she could handle issues with Manish. She was our mentor in tough times and now that I was far away, she was the only one Manish opened up to.
My thoughts got interrupted by Manish’s reply, “She’s doing great. In fact, she might be married soon. Her parents have started looking for suitable prospects.”
I did heave a sigh of relief which wasn’t made evident to him on the phone.
With the topic of marriage came thoughts that we wanted to avoid. He asked again, “Trishna, how long should we wait? I am not used to being away from you for so long.”
“We’ll work this out Manish. We must thank technology for giving us various means to communicate,” I said in an assertive tone.
“I am not comfortable as the time zone difference is difficult to maintain for three years. Shall we make some schedule sort of a thing?”he asked.
I giggled when I heard it but considered his option seriously.
We decided to talk on phone every Saturday at a time when both of us were free. It wasn’t like those five minute calls that I made at home. We had to talk for hours together and talking on Skype was the best option. It was difficult but we managed.
The initial few months weren’t good. We only complained and argued. There was nothing constructive.
Time flew by. Blame game was at the top of the list. It became so difficult to talk lovingly that I once asked myself, “Do I really need to continue with this relationship and get married to him?” I had the craziest of doubts about him as I was far away and felt I had drifted far off from his heart too.
There were exchanges of loving messages but often when we were offline.
Me: I am really sorry; I shouldn’t have been harsh on you.
I understand your point of view.
Have patience, just 10 more days to go, I will be in India.
These messages were sent when you were offline.
Manish: I know dear, you didn’t intend to hurt me.
Eager to meet you.
Messages like these did leave a good impact but often the essence of the conversation was lost. I wasn’t online always, as I had a lot of reading up to do for my assignments and projects. Manish was busy with his work. He dedicated his time completely to it so that he could spare time for me when I would be in India.
Finally, the day came when I got a short break to come home and spend time with my parents. It was an exquisite feeling to be with my close ones after two years.
Homecoming was wonderful. I expected Manish to be there at the airport too but my expectations didn’t get fulfilled. Unfortunately he had to go to Bangkok for a presentation.
I was happy for him but hurt with the fact that he didn’t care to inform me. I checked my mail, my chats and Whatsapp, there was no message pending from him. My mother defended him saying he had tried to call me up but I wasn’t convinced. The forgetful nature he had, he would have forgotten that I was going to be in India only for five days. I met his parents and we finally had a good interaction without any complaints. Even though I wasn’t able to explain to them in detail, they were happy about my progress. They indirectly hinted saying that Manish was doing good emotionally once we had started communicating.
To me, he was never the emotional type but I had to agree with what his parents had said. Five days went off in a jiffy and I was back again at the airport assuring my parents that it was just one more year.
I couldn’t meet Manish. He was back only after I reached Australia. He deeply regretted not keeping me informed. We were not on talking terms again for a stretch of four months. We had our chats and argument sessions which led to problems. His career was important and he shared only a few technical details with me. He never asked much about my work either. I could make out from his conversation that his work was going good but couldn’t decipher more than that.
We kept discussing petty matters that never got resolved. Sometimes I misunderstood things he spoke or messaged, and the after-effects of such conversations left me irritated.
I was halfway through my internship and had been receiving a decent amount as scholarship. I had saved enough to buy something for my close ones. Manish had an upper hand in this. Even though I fought him like a child, I knew it was the distance and communication gap that made me go mad at him always.
I bought him an iPad which could be useful for him at work. It was to be my surprise for him when I would move back to India. I completed my internship successfully and I had been placed in a Mexican firm as a technical analyst for the research and development team.
I didn’t plan to jump to that job immediately. I put forth my wish to work in India. My VISA was also going to expire soon and I had to decide. I had a meeting with the board members of the firm and requested them to shift me to their branch in India which would help me put an end to many problems of my life.
Finally it was my graduation night, and I had saved enough money to sponsor my parents’ travel to Australia. I went to receive them at the airport with the proud feeling of having graduated. Finally, that moment arrived when I received my degree. Their eyes were gleaming with tears. They had seen their daughter emerging triumphant. Their happiness knew no bounds. The emotional atmosphere got supersaturated with the arrival of the special chief guest for the night.
When I walked back to my seat after my valedictory speech, I saw a familiar lanky figure sitting beside my parents. There he was, my best friend, my love and my future partner, looking at me proudly. I rummaged my mind for words but my eyes answered instead. Manish’s shirt was moist with tear drizzles when I gave him a tight hug.
I packed off from Australia after informing my guide about my plan to work in India. He was reluctant to send me off so soon but he realized the importance I gave to my family. I had to live up to the promise I had made to my closest people.
While we were at the airport, Manish and I resumed our normal conversation. We discussed about our future plans for our wedding. I told him that I had been offered a job in a Mexican firm which also had an office in India.
“That’s great, dear. We’ll finally be together,” Manish said in a relieved tone.
“But where?” he asked inquisitively.
“Bangalore,” I said excitedly.
“But I was planning to start my new venture in Chennai and our potential client will be located there,” Manish said in desperation and turned his back after giving a can-you-really-bear-this-distance-again expression.
“Oh! No!” I screeched in dismay. (I had to decide something before the situation worsened)
“Don’t worry, I’ll find myself a new job this time,” I said taking control of the situation.
The very next moment three smiling faces turned towards me.