Joined: 14 October 2009
The ring, some tears and a punch
He saw her, and it seemed as if time stood still yet physically, the clock continued to tick on. It was an irony, surely, that she, the most unromantic person he had ever known, seemed to epitomize in that moment, something close to just about every sighing poet's moonlit inspiration. She was Shakespeare's Juliet, with her hand elegantly resting on the balcony rail, a pensive smile playing on her lips. When she turned to look at him, with those blazing star-strewn eyes that seemed to read his silences in a way that nobody else could, she was Austen's Elizabeth Bennet. She was Chattopadhyay's Lalita, Fournier's Yvonne de Galais.
And she was so much more.
She was Hansini, free-spirited, fiercely intelligent, resilient, generous and sincere. But beyond her personal qualities, there was something inexplicably magnetic about her. It was a feeling that had struck him at their first meeting itself, even in the bad temper he had been in on the day.
There he had been sitting, waiting, sandwiched between his parents, cornered by their dreams and expectations, silently bristling at his own weary submission to the artificiality of the whole scenario. And she had walked in, nonchalant, as though in a world of her own, radiant with that quiet sense of confidence and contentment. She was nothing like any of the girls his family had dragged him to meet. She was neither nervous nor overzealous nor conceited; she was just... there, serene and observant, at peace with herself and the world. She did not have any point to prove, any impression to make, any expectations to meet. She was there, just as she was.
When he had smiled at her then, it was not out of politeness. He knew, instantly, that he liked her.
Later, as their friendship grew and deepened, he began to respect and admire her. It could not have been easy to grow up with constant taunts and unsolicited remarks on her height and weight. Somehow, though, she managed to breeze through it all - the self-image issues, the embarrassment she faced when shopping for clothes, the series of unrequited loves, the rejections on so many levels. She turned it all into a source of humour and laughed it all off, in her characteristically uninhibited style, with a laughter that was silvery yet child-like, and that made her eyes glow and her little nose scrunch up.
But he knew that it must have stung, somewhere beneath the spectacular mask of indifference. Perhaps she did not know it herself, but he saw it.
He saw that while, on the one hand, she chose to channel the hurt into a passionate drive to excel at her studies and be among the best of her profession, rising majestically above all the pettiness, on the other hand, she blinkered her eyes away from the even the remotest possibility of ever finding love. For in her dictionary, true love' was an idea that novels and movies had romanticized for their self-validation and creative reasons, when it was really just as basic as compatibility and trust. And marriage was really just a convention based on the theory that the sustainability of society depended on the strength and stability of the families that it is composed of.
He saw that she had hidden away a part of herself, lest it be rejected and hurt, and shielded it with irrefutable logic and reason.
Unsurprisingly, though, he had no wish to change the way she was. He, the novelist and poet, was a fervently emotional person with diametrically opposite views, but he enjoyed debating and arguing with her, just as much as he enjoyed the lyrical silences they shared when they spent time together. Despite their differences, she understood and accepted him, and was the best friend he had ever had, the best he could have asked for.
"Vaibhav?" Hansini's voice pulled him away from his musings. She looked quizzical; he had been staring at her.
He shook his head, slightly embarrassed, and his eyes fell on the diamond on her ring finger. It was a symbol of the compromise that they had both made, resigning themselves to what their parents wished for them. They had agreed to marry each other, not out of love, but out of necessity and convenience.
It was necessary for him to settle down, and it was convenient for her to marry the person with whom she was the most compatible, the person who had somehow become her best friend. It was not a commitment, but a friendship pact, really.
But he realized now that he loved her in a way that went beyond friendship. He loved her as he had never loved anybody before. And now, the reason why he wanted to marry her, was that he knew with every fibre of his being, that he needed to spend his life with her. He needed her to argue with him, to care for him, to sulk and be pacified by him, to inspire him, to heal him. He needed her to breathe life into him. He needed to tell her so that she would know just how much she meant to him.
"Can I have your ring back please?" he said, the words leaving him before he had a chance to think them through. Facepalm moment, as his "hip n cool" nephew would say in facebook lingo. If only he had thought it out before, made a proper plan, and known at least where he was going with this. He realized, a little too late, that he had just embarked upon a path of cringeworthy cheesiness, but there really seemed to be no going back.
Hansini was understandably taken aback, "What's wrong?"
"I want to propose to you," he said, feeling his ears redden with embarrassment.
For a minute, she said nothing, and then of course, she burst out laughing. Her laugh was infectious, and soon he was laughing too, albeit nervously. He had often read and even written about becoming a fool in love, and there he was - the perfect embodiment of that archetypal flustered blubbering idiot. Great!
"Vaibhav," she said kindly, once the laughter had died out, "What is it yaar? You seem strange. I can sense something is amiss. Look, we're buddies, right? You can share it with me, and you don't need to be awkward or anything. It's just me."
And that - her being so caring, even in the face of his strange antics, her way of reading his eyes when words would fail him - that, gave him the courage that he perhaps needed at that point. He silently reached for her hand and pulled her away from the deafening buzz of the party, into his bedroom. It had begun to rain outside, heavily, the raindrops dancing with free abandon, pounding across the dark window in the rhythm of his heartbeats.
There was no need for theatrics. It was a moment for truth, plain and simple. The one truth that he was absolutely sure of.
"Hansini, I am in love with you, and I... I just wanted you to know that."
Her eyes widened in surprise and confusion.
"Vibs, you don't need to -" she began, then, as though unsure of what to say next, allowed her voice to trail away into the sound of the rain.
"I do. Trust me, I do. And I am not asking you to reciprocate, I'm just... telling you."
"But... but how?"
She was still trying to piece it all together, searching for some rationality in the emotional chaos of it all.
"How?" he echoed, now confused too.
"I mean, why are you doing this? Please don't. You are just complicating things. Everything was clear and simple, and perfectly logical and predictable between us. I never expected anything from you. I understand everything, and I am cool with it all. I know how you were reluctant about getting married, and I really have no issues. I understand that you are not able to forget... Jessica, and it's... fine."
It had been a long time since Jessica's name had been mentioned by either of them. It had remained a painful topic, even after so many years. The deafening silence brought an onslaught of past memories that were once buried in a deep corner of his heart. But, strangely, even as the now blurry memories materialised before his eyes, he felt that he felt nothing anymore. It was like watching a documentary on some obscure subject - they were just facts that meant nothing at all. The heartbroken, embittered person was another Vaibhav he barely identified with anymore. The dam obstructing all the pain once held captive in his heart had been dislodged, but nothing happened.
All he saw was Hansini, and the unfathomable sense of hurt clouding her usually bright face.
"Do you think I'm still in love with her?" he asked.
There was a long pause before she replied, "yes."
Her answer threw him off, "So why do you think that I'm telling you that I love you?"
She looked away, "I don't know, I - I - look, why are we talking about this? Everyone's at the party, they are going to wonder where we are. And in half an hour's time, it will be midnight. The countdown to the new year will be starting, and they'll be looking for us. Let's just go."
He grabbed her arm to stop her from leaving. She looked extremely agitated. He had never seen her like in that state before. She almost looked angry, but there were also tears of desperation beginning to well up in her eyes. Her breath hitched painfully as she tried to stop the treacherous tears from flowing, in vain.
It was an odd feeling. He had never been privy to her vulnerable side before - a part of him felt strangely privileged that she was crying in front of him. He was almost falling in love with the pearl-like emotions glowing on her face. The humanity of it all was somehow heart-warming. And at the same time, he felt uncharacteristically angry that something... someone... perhaps he himself, had hurt her so much. So much, that she wanted to hide away her hurt, even from him, her confidante.
"Hansini, like you said... we're friends, right? What's happening? You have to tell me."
"I don't have to tell you anything. Let go of my arm," she snapped, but the anger in her words was barely reflected in her eyes. Her eyes never lied.
"I won't," he said firmly, but loosening his grip all the same, "Look, I didn't want to upset you. I only wanted to share how I feel. How I truly feel."
"But how can it be true?" she mumbled, as though more to herself than to him.
"Well it is true. And anyway when have I been anything other than completely honest with you? You are the one who is hiding something from me. Please tell me what the matter is."
"I don't know. I just... I feel that you are just being nice, because maybe you feel sorry for me. I mean, friendship and all is okay but this... I don't know."
"What? But why? You are a strong, successful person, you have everything going for you. I respect you for so many reasons. And you have brought so much happiness into my life. When I was a moody and bitter person, you pulled me out of my shell. If anything, I think it is you who must have felt sorry for me. Why on earth would I feel sorry for you? I love you man!"
She said nothing, but the tears continued to flow from her eyes. She made no attempt to stop them, as though they had been suffocating her for a long time.
And then he understood. For years, she had run away from emotions that might have weakened her, and it had happened after all. He saw in her tears that he was not the only one wrought by the insecurities and pain that were only a part of love. Like he had so many times before, he saw then, his own mirror reflection in her anguished eyes. He let go of her arm.
"Hansini," he said softly, "do you know what this is?"
He had grabbed from the bookshelf, a glass star, the last symbol of his erstwhile relationship with Jessica. He clutched the broken glass star, mended with several strips of clear tape. It was broken but it still came together perfectly, safely securing the memories hidden inside each of the shattered crystals.
She froze as she seemed to understand what was about to happen. He wrenched open the window and felt the rain lash against his outstretched arm.
But she grabbed his arm, stopping him, her face betraying fear.
He gently pulled away her hand, and said, "I'm not doing this to prove a point to you. I'm doing it because I should have done it a long time ago. For me. This means nothing anymore. She left me, it's over. It got over a long time ago, but I refused to accept it. But I understand now that my present is much more precious than my past ever was, or could have been."
And with that, he extended the arm containing the glass star. He held it up to the dark sky, rain pounding on in the background, and let it slip from his hands. In his mind's eye, he watched it slowly crash down to the wet ground and come apart. The strips of tape could no longer support the broken star but from within, he finally felt mended.
There was nothing holding him back anymore.
He looked at Hansini and cupped his hand around her tear-stained cheek, "You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. You've taught me to live again, to find happiness in small things, to hope and dream again. To love."
She threw herself in his arms, sniffling, as she said, breathlessly, "I love you yaar. I love you so much. I have loved you all along, for such a long time."
"I know," he smiled, feeling, as he did so, tears dropping from his own eyes, as he took in the feel of her sobbing frame against his thumping heart. He could not have fathomed that it was possible to feel in one moment, so much happiness, and so much love. He strongly suspected that he was the luckiest man on earth.
"It's so stupid, right?" she said in a light chuckle.
Just the typical sort of the thing Hansini would say.
He tenderly pulled himself away from her, and dropped down to his knees, holding his own engagement ring out at her, "Well, since we're being stupid, pray tell me Hansini Talwar, will you marry me?"
"Oh God, you're such an idiot," she laughed.
"I will die without you. Please marry me," he quipped back.
"Stop being filmi! We are getting married next month anyway," she reminded him, barely stopping herself from rolling her eyes.
"So that's a yes?" he said getting up, feigning relief.
"Yes! Should I sing a song about it and dance around your room?"
She punched him on the shoulder, sealing the deal, and for good measure, planted a kiss on his lips.
And thus began a lifetime of banter, laughter, tears, comfort, friendship and love.
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