"So, did you tell your bride that you love her?" I asked my son who looked absolutely splendid in a bridegroom's attire. His Majestic Silver Sherwani had bright red flowers embroidered on it. The dress accentuated his soft complexion.
He adjusted his thick glasses and said. "Come on Pa, we have been living together for over 2 years now. We know each other well. Times have changed Pa. The fact that I am marrying her means that I am doing it because I love her, and want to be with her. It hardly makes any sense for me to confess my feelings now when it’s so obvious. I don't want to appear silly."
He took a sip from his wine glass and added as an afterthought, "Pa, did you ever tell Ma that you loved her?"
It was a beautiful evening. Hues of Red and Gold filled the sky. I did not reply to Varun but what he said brought back the bitter sweet memories of the past.
Ever heard the story of the beggar who went out begging for years and on his last day in the world realised that the dirty wooden box he had always been sitting upon while begging was actually filled with gold. Well, that beggar is me. Sometimes life eludes us but only those with faith are able to rise above all the confusion and find a way in the murky realms of life.
I had everything fate could bestow upon. Money, great family and good looks. But I didn't earn any of it. Sometimes when others related their struggles to me, I felt very shallow. I admired them for their journey but I hadn't experienced any of it. At college, I was quite popular. Everyone wanted to befriend me. Not because of what I was, but because of my flashy cars, my bank balance and my so called good looks. They didn't know the real me. Heck, even I didn't know the real me.
And then I found her. This girl with big bright expressive eyes which even those thick glasses could not hide. She had a lean frame and dusky complexion. To many she many she would not be the most beautiful girl. In fact, you may even find her average looking. But if you observe her quietly, her beauty grows on you. She would grow more beautiful each passing minute. There was a some….some "light" in her, or shall I say some infectious enthusiasm. When she smiled, her smile reached her eyes and lit up her features. She was like a bright shining star in my sky. I could see her, experience her but only from afar. She was the one for whom I wanted to visit college each day. But she did not know that. Nobody knew that. It was my little secret.
I envied her drive. She put her heart in everything she did. She was the college topper. She was the best debater. She participated in all the college fest activities. She organised everything flawlessly. She would never ever wear out and always wore a smile on her face.
She had a purpose, a mission and great clarity. She was all I was not. I wanted to be with her. To talk to her, or to simply watch her.
I wanted her in my life. It was the one thing I truly ever wanted. One thing that I was truly sure of.
But why would she consider someone like me? Perhaps she could see through me. I didn't have the guts to approach her. I never did approach anyone for that matter. People approached me for funds, for contacts, to receive some benefit or the other. And then, I had always suffered from foot-in-mouth disease. And she was just too important for any social experiment.
It was just another day when I was watching her getting engaged in a debate. Her words were like music to my ears. I got up after the social studies period and thought about complimenting her on her arguments. As I got up, Tarun, one of my class fellows came by and remarked, “What a hot debate about capitalism versus communal-ism today. Shraddha was good but Ayush was awesome. They both are good. And tell you what, there is a subtle chemistry between them."
"What does that mean? A subtle chemistry?" My mind chattered. I left the class irritably. I suddenly realised that I was just too lost in Shraddha that I failed to recognise how well Ayush and Shraddha matched. In-fact Ayush was the male version of Shraddha. He was studious, sincere, and enterprising.
The whole college was talking about how compatible Ayush and Shraddha seemed and about their "subtle chemistry". As if they were all vying to get them together. Despite being competitors, Shraddha and Ayush were cordial to each other and had good words to say about each other.
Why was that so? They did indeed respect each other. True. But did they like each other that way?
I had often seen Ayush look at Shraddha as a man looks at a woman.
Did Shraddha too have feelings for him?
I did not have the heart to lose Shraddha. I had to do something. So, one fine day, it was 4th of July actually, and I remember the date because the college drama troupe was enacting some play about American war of Independence, that I approached Shraddha. I found Shraddha ensconced comfortably in the last row of the grand Auditorium. There was still enough time for the show to begin.
I went to her and simply stood next to her. She was engrossed in some book. It was... It was James Joyce's Ulysses.
"Hi Shraddha" I murmured.
She looked up and removed her thick reading glasses.
She smiled back and my heart skipped a beat.
"Hi Piyush. "
"What are you reading?" I said.
"Oh. It’s Ulysses by James Joyce. Do you know it ends with the longest line in English literature?"
She was talking with excitedly and my face dropped. I didn't know James Joyce. I didn't know Ulysses. I didn’t know literature.
She studied my face and said “What happened Piyush?”
"I ...I wondering if you would go out for coffee with me?”
That moment I wanted to hit myself. Girls like Shraddha didn't go out with boys like me. She was from a very conservative family. And I had an unearned reputation of being a lady killer. I could have made some small talk with her like about her favourite author or something, And then perhaps should have sought her assistance with some assignment and then asked...
"What time?" said Shraddha, breaking my trail of thoughts?
"What time for coffee" she asked calmly.
"Anytime which suits you? You are the busy one. I mean I am fine with anytime."
I can make time for you anytime, was what I actually wanted to say.
"4 pm tomorrow then?”
That was the happiest day of my life. Or wait was it the day we got married? I don't know but the strings of events went by quite fast. The day was beautiful. There was a mild drizzle. The rain drops made everything look beautiful. I found Shraddha waiting for me outside her hostel. She looked very pretty.
The coffee date turned out fine. Shraddha spoke mostly about the upcoming academic projects but it was a treat to watch the glint in her eyes as she spoke. I was mesmerised.
I ended up dropping her back at her hostel where her parents were waiting for her. Her parents had arrived that afternoon without notice to inquire about her well-being, or as was in those days to check upon her.
She was visibly uncomfortable. Her parents seemed to belong to ages back and wore a quizzical look on their faces as they saw us. Shraddha gave me a feeble smile and proceeded to receive her parents whose erstwhile quizzical look had now turned into grumpy expressions.
That night, I could not sleep. I kept on thinking about the trouble I had got Shraddha into and the visible uncertainty on her face. I talked to my Mother the next day and expressed interest in marrying. When she asked if I had someone specific in my mind I told her about Shraddha.
Now, my mom knew everyone and had contacts everywhere. She was a befitting wife to a businessman and had played her part well. She always dressed immaculately and mostly wore a stern expression on her face, though she smiled every now and then. To the household she was the perfect mistress. Only I and my dad knew that she was vulnerable too for we could see past her façade.
She got some basic details about Shraddha from me and made few calls. An hour later she informed that Shraddha was deemed fit to be my bride. Shraddha came from a reputed family in Pushkar, Rajasthan which was my Mom's native place too. She told me that she will send a marriage proposal to them via a common acquaintance. Things were moving fast. I did not know, if indeed it was the right thing to do. Or if Shraddha was ready for it. Or if I was ready to face the responsibilities that came with marriage. But one thing I was very sure of. I wanted her in my life no matter what.
Five days had passed since our ill-fated date. I still went to college in order to catch a glimpse of her. But she was nowhere. Probably she went to her place back in Pushkar.
On the 6th day, my Mom received a phone call confirming that Shraddha's folks were okay with the proposal. I did not see Shraddha after that. We had a brief telephonic conversion in which she had informed me that she was appearing for Indian Administrative Services (IAS) exam and if I, as her betrothed, had any concerns. Of-course I had none. Why would she think I would? I would never want to kill her jest for life. I was sure she would turn out to be a wonderful government official, our country needed likes of her. But then she didn't know what I knew. She didn’t know how much I loved her and admired her. I encouraged her nevertheless to pursue her goals.
Our wedding was uneventful. It was a family affair. Our married life however was bliss. For our honeymoon, we went to Ranikhet, a place Sharddha had always wanted to visit and it was wonderful. She secured top rank in IAS exam and went to the Dehradun Academy for training shortly afterwards. During her training, we had daily telephonic conversions and established some connect with each other. She was a good officer and a wonderful wife. I think she tried to emulate my mom. She was always well dressed, spoke politely and was pleasant mannered. She studied my likes and dislikes and took great interest in my chores. She often discussed business with me. At times, she challenged me; at times, she complimented my decisions. Her enthusiasm rubbed on me and I started enjoying what I was doing. I could find a purpose in each of my projects. My family business flourished and she had a great role in that.
It had been 7 years. Everything was picture perfect. Except that I had not told her how much I loved her and that she was my lifeline. The only other thing was that we didn't have any children. It did not bother me much as long as Shraddha was with me. But the prospect of having child who would be an extension of Shraddha did interest me. I was seriously considering talking to Shraddha that we consult a doctor but stalled the discussion until after our planned vacation to Rio de Janerio, another of Shraddha's dream destination. I had planned the trip meticulously and had rented a villa for our stay.
As we roamed around the lively and vibrant streets of Rio, Life seemed at its best.
It was one phone call which rocked my ever-perfect life forever.
It was a call from Ayush our erstwhile batch-mate. Apparently, he had cracked Indian Foreign Services and was working at the Indian Embassy at Brazil. He had got to know that Sharddha was visiting Rio from a common friend (what common friend?) and had invited us to dine at his place.
Shraddha had meekly asked if we could go.
"Of course. But what would I do between the two intellectuals. You know him better. I would hardly have anything to say to him. And I am sure you two would have a lot to catch up. " I said.
"You are okay for me to go to his place by my selves." She said sharply. I was taken aback.
"Of course. Why would I mind?" I said.
"Very well then. Thank you." She said.
Shraddha was away now for over four hours. I thought about calling her but didn’t. I didn’t want her to think that I doubted her. I grew more and more nervous. It was pouring heavily outside. Suddenly, I heard a knock and turned back expectantly. It was Shraddha, she was drenched in rain and looked pale. I quickly grabbed a towel and reached out to her.
"What....How did the dinner go?" I said when I actually wanted to ask what took her so long.
She looked at me with the same stern expression which she gave me when I had said that I didn’t mind her meeting Ayush.
"It went Okay."
Shraddha spoke less with me after that day. A part of me wanted to talk about it with her. But I was afraid of what the outcome would be. What if she gets offended by what I say. What if she loved Ayush. What if she wanted to go back to him. No, she was too precious to lose. She was my life.
Hardly a month after our Rio trip, we had to go see the doctor who proudly declared that Shraddha was expecting. Shraddha's eyes brimmed with tears. No, they were not the tears of happiness. They were the tears of helplessness. For when it came to Shraddha, I knew how to differentiate the two. I could not see her so tense. I had to do something.
"Why are you so scared Shraddha, We can have DNA test if you aren’t too sure."
It was for the third time that she gave me that stern discerning look. She opened her mouth to say something but didn’t.
The next few months well hellish for Shraddha's health deteriorated like anything. It was as if she had left all jest for life. She had stopped eating and was throwing up whatever we made her eat. As her pregnancy progressed, she became more and more weaker. I stopped going to work submitting the reins of my business to my parents in order to tend to her. But nothing brought her happiness despite all my efforts. It was the last trimester of her pregnancy when she had to be rushed to the hospital. The doctor suggested an emergency C-section which would mean a premature delivery. Also, the doctors had little hopes for Shraddha's survival. I was dejected seeing Shraddha's condition, unable to decipher what went wrong.
As I entered the ICU, Shraddha looked at me and signed. She signalled me to come sit next her.
I did as instructed. Shraddha then spoke in low tone "Piyush, After I pass away, you are free to get the baby’s DNA's test done."
I could not control the anger in me and spoke up "Shraddha , 8 eight years together and this is what you think of me? Don’t you know how much I care for you, how much I love you."
Shraddha smiled and said. "You are a good person Piyush and I know that you care for me but only if you reciprocate my love, it would have made my life worth living."
“Shraaaaa …Shraaaddha..." I stammered.
"Let me speak Piyush, for I may not find my voice again. I loved you with all my heart. You were all a girl could dream of. With those innocent looks and heart of gold. You had always helped anyone in distress no matter how hard it would be on you. I had secretly loved you. But I knew I was no match. A bespectacled bookworm, that was me. But the day you asked me out for coffee. I was on cloud nine. Not sure if you noticed but I spent has spent hours priming myself. The date was the most beautiful day of my life...." and Shraddha's eyes glistened with the memory.
Shraddha continued after a pause "I didn’t want to trap you into marriage. I had no plans,.. except to study hard and gain some worth. My parents were conservative, it was big deal for them to send their daughter afar to study, and to have a guy drop her back to hostel was just too much. I was called back home. It should not have affected me much since our course was almost complete but I was uneasy with the thought of not seeing you ever again. And when your proposal arrived, it was all like a dream. I didn’t know why wanted to marry me or if it was out of pity but I didn’t think much. I didn’t question. Does one question a windfall?
You have been a great husband to me. Very supportive and gentle. And I tried to be good wife. Tell me, didn’t I ? But I was always conscious of not being loved by you the way I loved you. My blood would boil seeing you with another any other woman. But you never elicited any emotions for me. You were always unaffected." Cried Shraddha.
"Shaddha...." I tried to interject.
"Piyush, you let me visit Ayush by my selves. You didn’t feel any pang of jealously. I waited for you to call me at Ayush's place. But you didn’t. I left after an hour. I feel lost without you. For over 2 hours I wandered about the streets in rain waiting for you. But you didn’t come. I was angry with you. Then at the hospital that day you proved me how low you think of me. I cannot explain my unexpected pregnancy after all these years but Piyush I confess that I always loved you madly. I always had nothing to lose but you."
"Shraddha, I loved too. I loved you since I first spotted you at college. I simply could not think you would love an idiot like me. I married you because I loved you. But I never could comprehend why a girl like you would choose me over guys like Ayush. I was forever insecure. I was always afraid of losing you for you are everything I had. I told myself that a chance encounter with Ayush cannot take you away from me and the life we have built. Never in my dreams I knew that you loved me."
"You...love me" smiled Shraddha.
"Thank you. You have given me my life back."
Those were her last words to me as she lay limp and lifeless before me.
There was a stark silence in the room. My son was still looking at me, perhaps waiting for me to come out of trance.
I cleared my throat and said: "The times may have changed and marriage may come across as an unnecessary formality. But love is timeless. It never changes. Love needs to be communicated. Tell you bride that you love her. Confess your feelings today and not keep it for the last."
Varun looked at me gravely. His face wore Shraddha's stern trademark expression. He nodded and left.