Joined: 14 October 2006
She unbuckled her seat belt and stood up to take out her lap top and handbag from the over head bin. Would he be there to receive her, she wondered but quickly banished the thought from her mind. No, there was no way he would be there after their insalubrious conversation and the subsequent break up. At a corner of her heart, though, she harboured hope that he would be there, waiting to see her as much as she wanted to see him. As her seat was on the wings, she had to wait in the long queue before she could deplane. She scampered down the aerobridge and quickly rushed to the baggage claim section. Unfortunately her suitcases were the last to come down the conveyor belt. She picked up the suitcases and stashed them on the trolley she had wheeled up and walked towards the exit.
Although she did not expect to see him, her eyes unwittingly searched for him amongst the long line of eager airport visitors who had come to escort their clients/loved ones. Seeing him standing at the end of the line, her heart skipped a beat. She looked carefully at his face but it wore an inscrutable expression. When she approached him, she ignored him and continued towards the queue for the taxis. He snatched the trolley from her hands and started pushing it towards the parking lot. She tried to snatch it back from him in defiance. He just glared at her, making her feel sufficiently chastised. She followed him silently after that. When they got to his Honda City, he opened the trunk and pushed in her two pieces of luggage in it. He then took the driver's seat and buckled himself in. She stood near the car, uncertainly shuffling her feet. He kept waiting silently, making no move to invite her into the car. After a couple of minutes she uttered an expletive under her breath and slid into the seat next to him. He started the engine but stubbornly refused to break the silence. Finally she could not control herself any longer. She burst out, "Why are you here? Were you not the one who had called it quits"
"Let me remind you something, Madam. You were the one who said we cannot carry on this way and that you wanted to break up. I had only said that if you want to split then I will not stop you."
"Then why are you here?" she repeated in frustration. She desperately wanted to hear him admit that he was wrong and beg for a second chance.
"Because I don't like breaking up over the phone. If we have to break up I want it to be proper, after a face-to-face confrontation. That is the least we owe to our fifteen-year association."
She looked at him incredulously. So he wanted this to be as ugly as it can get? Why can he not at least show some respect to what they had all these years? Tears stung her eyes but she had too much pride to let them spill over in his presence. She turned away from him and stared blindly at the huge bill boards lining up the Western Express Highway as his car sped towards Bandra where she was staying as a paying guest in one of the houses in Hill Road.
On reaching their destination, he stopped outside the house and went to the trunk of his car to remove her suitcases. He carried them up to the front door and rang the bell. Meher Mistry, Geet's friend and the daughter of the land lady, opened the door and greeted them. Maan merely nodded an acknowledgement and hurriedly carried her suitcases to her room. Leaving them by the door, he came down and headed towards the main door. Meher asked Maan to stay back for a cup of coffee but he declined politely saying that he has some urgent work. Wishing Meher goodbye he turned to Geet and said brusquely, "Meet me at the coffee shop at 9 o'clock tomorrow."
Without waiting for her response, he quickly made his way out and disappeared into the night. Geet bit back her anger and disappointment. Yes, she wanted to see him but she did not expect their encounter to be so cold and distant. Sensing the tension between them, Meher asked her if there was something wrong. Geet merely shook her head in the negative and said that she was exhausted from the long flight from New York and would prefer to turn in early. She wished her goodnight and went to her room. She could hardly sleep a wink as she kept tossing and turning on her bed, recollecting her past with him.
She had met him for the first time when she was just nine years old and he was ten. He was the short, chubby and shy boy who lived in the flat adjacent to hers. His father, Prem Khurana, worked in the Income Tax department and had just been transferred to Chennai from Calcutta. Like her, Maan too was an only child, and the absence of any other kids in the colony they lived in drew them close. Her friendly disposition helped dispel his inhibitions and soon they became inseparable friends, sharing every little detail of their lives with each other. He spent more time at their house than he did in his own. His father was a strict disciplinarian and his ego often clashed with his, especially after he entered his teens. Whenever there was a misunderstanding with his father, he will come to their place and sulk for hours. Her mother, Rano, always knew how to handle the temperamental boy. She will let him cool his head by feeding his tummy. Soon the guy would regain his composure and return to his place. Geet never found out what these father-son conflicts were about and she too had never really pressed for more details than he was willing to divulge. She wished she could have gotten him to open up more back then. Maybe things would not have reached this stage right now.
She does not know the precise moment she fell in love with him, for over a period of time love had stealthily entered her heart, but she knew that she cannot live without him the day he had bid her good bye for the first time. His father had been transferred to Delhi when he was in Class XI. His mother and he had stayed back in Chennai till he completed his Class XII before joining him in Delhi. On the day of his departure, as she stood with him on the railway platform outside his compartment in the Rajdhani Express, she felt a large lump in her throat. They both looked at each other in silence unable to utter a word, but their eyes spoke volumes of their pain at the impending separation. The train signaled its readiness to leave. His mother, Vimala Khurana, came up to the entrance of the compartment. She smiled at her and asked her to come to Delhi sometime with her parents. She then turned to her son and asked him to get into the train as it was about to leave. He reluctantly got in, his eyes never leaving Geet's. They kept waving to each other till the train disappeared from her sight.
Their separation lasted only for three months, although it seemed like a life time to Geet. Maan was back in Chennai, having obtained admission in the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in the computers stream. When she went to receive him at the station, she could hardly recognise him. The shy boy with budding moustache had morphed into a tall, well proportioned handsome young man, with a closely trimmed moustache and beard. Her parents were delighted to see him. Her father, Inder Handa, asked him over dinner what rank he had scored in the joint entrance exam. When he was told that he had obtained an All India rank of 37, her father was surprised that he had chosen IIT, Madras, for given his rank he could have chosen any institute in the country and considering that his family lived in Delhi, one would have expected that he would have opted for IIT, Delhi. When he questioned him about his choice, he merely said that the course he was opting for was better in the Chennai institute. Geet knew though that the real reason for his choice was to be closer to her. The following year she joined the architecture course in Anna University. As the two institutions were opposite to each other, they frequently met at his hostel and chatted up.
Although she knew that she was already in love with him and suspected that he too loved her, they never verbalised their feelings for a long time. Their love confession came out quite dramatically and that too by accident rather than by design. One evening, as she was returning home from the Connemara public library, she was chased by a crazy dog which was apparently afflicted with rabies. She had never been more terrified in her life as she ran as fast as her slender legs could carry her. As it was a public holiday and it was pretty late in the evening, there were very few people on the road and seeing the frothing and snarling dog they all took shelter in the nearby buildings. The dog was gaining ground and soon was close at her heels when she suddenly hit against a hard chest. She looked up and saw Maan standing in front of her. He caught her tightly in his arms and swung her behind him. Just as the dog pounced up high towards them, he swung a stick at the dog, hitting it between its eyes. The dog slumped and fell down unconscious. Maan then quickly whipped out his mobile and called the Blue Cross. The van promptly arrived and the dog was put to eternal sleep. The close encounter with something as horrific as being bitten by a crazy dog had scared Geet so much that she fell into Maan's arms and wept uncontrollably.
In between her sobs she hiccupped, "Maan I was so scared that I will die before I confessed my love for you. I want to live long, Maan. I want to be your wife and the mother of your children."
Maan seemed to be equally emotional as he caught her face between his hands and assured her, "I will never let anything happen to you as long as I live. I love you too and want to cherish you as your husband. I want to father your children."
They had then kissed each other passionately in the middle of the deserted road.
After that frightening experience, their relationship underwent a subtle change. While there was no let up in their animated conversations, they were more physically demonstrative of their feelings for each other, although they never crossed the line. Both of them wanted to gift themselves completely to each other only after their marriage. On completing his four-year B.Tech course, he continued with his two-year M.Tech course at the same institute. As her course was for five years, they passed out from their respective institutes round about the same time. Maan got a lucrative job offer from a multi-national company at Mumbai but he was reluctant to take it up, preferring instead to accept a less attractive job from a company in Chennai in order to be close to Geet. She knew that his dream was to open his own computer firm at the shortest time possible and for that the high pay-scale offered by the MNC would aid him more. She assured him that she too will find some job in Mumbai. It was only after that did he take up the job with the MNC. He helped her find the job in a leading architectural firm in Mumbai and she joined him soon. She stayed as a paying guest in her friend, Meher's house. Meher and she were classmates at Anna University. Maan stayed in his bachelor pad at Andheri. They always made time for each other no matter how busy they were in their respective jobs.
Three months ago, Geet had left for New York on an assignment. The temporary separation was tough on both of them as they missed each other very much. It was only the second occasion that they were apart in the last fifteen years. They kept in constant touch with each other over the phone and through the internet for the first two months. Maan had then left for his native village near Hoshiarpur in Punjab where his parents had shifted after his father's early retirement from service.
When he returned, Geet noticed a perceptible change in his demeanour from the phone calls she made to him. While he seemed more than willing to discuss his work with her, he clamped up when asked about his trip to his hometown. Finally on that fateful night she had lost her patience with him and demanded that he tells her what had transpired between him and his parents. He was equally obstinate and refused to divulge any details. She then gave him an ultimatum that he should choose between her and his family secrets. If he was not willing to share details of his life, then they should perhaps call it quits for it was pointless carrying on a relationship with someone who was so secretive. He had said in a tired voice that if she wanted to break up with him she was free to do so and had cut off the line abruptly. She waited for him to call back and apologise for being so rude but he never did call her. She had too much pride to cave in, although there were several times she was tempted to call him and make peace.
The past one month had been hell for her, knowing that the beautiful relationship she shared with Maan for years was lost in a matter of minutes and that too in the most ridiculous manner but to her it was important that they have an open relationship where they could share with each other everything. His unwillingness to do so is what irked her. She felt she cannot compromise on this matter. From what little she had seen of him that night, she knew that there was no change in his stance. This frustrated her as she realised that their scheduled meeting the next morning would only serve to bury their relationship once and for all. In the wee hours of the morning she finally drifted into a disturbed dreamless sleep.
She was awoken by the hot rays of the sun hitting her face. She looked at the timepiece near her bedside and got up with a start when she saw that it was 9.30 am. Her head still felt groggy from the jet lag and her overnight worries about her impending meeting with Maan. Thinking about the meeting, she realised she was already late by half an hour for it. She hurriedly finished her morning routine and rushed out of her house. By the time she reached the coffee shop at Bandstand, Bandra, it was ten minutes past 10 o'clock. She quickly headed to their usual corner and noticed Maan fuming, checking his watch every few seconds. She slid into the seat opposite him and apologised for her late appearance. Although his face was red with fury he did not say anything but asked the waiter to bring them two cappuccinos.
They waited in uneasy silence for the coffee to arrive. Geet kept shifting in her seat and Maan looked intensely at the table top, refusing to meet her eye. When the coffee finally arrived, he kept stirring it for a few minutes before he finally cleared his throat to say something.
"Geet, there is something I have to tell you," he said as he looked directly into her eyes.
She waited with bated breath anticipating him to open up and reveal what he had steadfastly held close to his heart for the last one month.
Seeing the look in her eyes he said, "If you are expecting me to share with you what transpired between me and my parents, I am sorry to disappoint you, because my stance has not changed since the last time we discussed this matter."
Her heart sank hearing this.
"However, I do not want to let go of this beautiful relationship which has lasted us for 15 years. I would, therefore, request you to hear me out carefully before taking your call. If at the end of it you still want to opt out, you are free to do so, although it will leave me heartbroken for the rest of my life. You are and will remain the only woman in my life."
"Geet, I have loved you, still love you and will always love you, but I can't share with you every detail of my life which does not have a direct bearing on our relationship. I had a serious altercation with my father but I cannot discuss with you what it was about. Suffice it to say that it did not concern you. My parents have long accepted you as their future daughter-in-law and nothing has changed that. The reason I cannot discuss my family matter with you is because I feel it would belittle my parents in your eyes and I cannot bear that. I love and honour my parents far too much for that."
Geet tried to protest saying that she will not think ill of them but he raised his hand to stop her even before she could get in a word.
"I know Geet, you may say that you will never think that way but I do not want to take a chance of even a small amount of disrespect creeping inadvertently into your relationship with them. I cannot betray their trust in me to keep family matters within the family."
"But Maan, I will soon become your family, wouldn't I?"
"Yes, Geet but you are not one of us, yet. Even after marriage there will always be that thin invisible line between my family and yours. However close you may get to my parents, you may not be able to accept them as unconditionally as I do because I am tied to them by blood which you will never be. Moreover, you may not be able to accept the things they may say to me in anger with the same equanimity as I do, because your love for me may outweigh your respect for them. You may resent them if you come to know that they vented their anger on me. By keeping certain things from you, I want to forestall any unpleasantness which may threaten the harmony in your relationship with my parents. But I promise to reveal everything which will have a direct bearing on our relationship."
He then took out a paper and pen and drew two circles intersecting each other. He labelled one circle as 'Parents' and the other as 'Geet'. He shaded the intersecting portion and said, "Look here, Geet. I will share all the things which would fall in this intersected portion where my relationship with my parents is connected with my relationship with you."
He shaded the portion of the circle marked 'Parents' where it did not intersect with the circle marked 'Geet'. "But I will not share with you this portion where my relationship with my parents is independent of my relationship with you. What transpired between me and my parents last month falls in this category. I have since made peace with them but whatever it was that disturbed me then, will remain a secret which I will not reveal to anyone including you. Likewise if there is some misunderstanding between me and you, I will keep it strictly between us and will not discuss it with my parents. I will try to sort it out with you. I will always uphold your honour in front of my parents and never betray you."
He continued, "A man and a woman perform several roles at the same time, Geet. The dynamics of human relationships is complex. I am a son to my parents, a lover and a future husband to you. Tomorrow I may become a father to your children. Likewise you are a daughter to your parents, a lover and future wife to me and prospective mother to my children. Tomorrow there could be some misunderstanding between you and your parents which may disturb you but in no way will it be related to me. I would not insist that you tell me about it. I will let you resolve your differences with your parents on your own, unless you yourself approach me for help.
If we do not balance our several roles and ensure that the respect our partner has for our various other relationships is not jeopardised by our own admission of the weaknesses in these relationships, we will fail miserably in discharging our duties. This is what I strongly believe in. So will you accept me as I am, with all my flaws and secrecies? I really do not want to lose you, darling. I love you far too much."
Geet looked at him with tears in her eyes. She did not understand half of what he said but somewhere in the corner of her heart she felt that he may be right. In any case it was apparent that he loved her as much as she loved him and that was all that mattered. "I don't want to lose you too, Maan. I can't live without you," she said and held his hand tightly in hers. Maan took her hand up to his lips and kissed her fingers gently.
"So will you marry me, Ms.Geet Handa?"
"Yes, I will," she said and smiled through her tears.
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