It was still dawn when I stepped out of the cab and walked towards the entry gate of the Delhi airport. I was travelling to Bengaluru to attend a college friend's wedding. It had been six years since we graduated from the same college. This wedding was also going to be a reunion of our batchmates. But what I didn't know was that the reunion would begin much ahead of time; right in the queue in front of the airline counter.
I was almost sure it was her. Same height! Same long hair! Same complexion! Curiosity had my eyes glued to her. And then about 60-odd seconds later, when she turned, she proved me right. My ex-girlfriend stood two places ahead of me in that queue.
It was an awkward moment for both of us as our eyes met; we lived through those pleasurable and painful moments again. I imagined that I saw a faint smile on her lips as she turned her back towards me again. This is not how I had expected to start my journey to Bengaluru. I began to hope that she was not travelling to Bengaluru for the wedding as well since that would mean more awkwardness for us. Did I want to apologise to her? Should I just talk to her? I was not sure of my feelings. We had distanced ourselves from each other after that day.
As I passed the security checks, I scanned around if she was there. She was nowhere in sight. A part of me was hoping that I would see her again and ask her how she was doing. The other part was not sure if I wanted to really see her. I didn’t think she would come for this wedding as she was not particularly close to this friend of ours and I was very sure that she would want to avoid me at all costs.
After all, she must believe that I had let her down in the past. She must see me as an unfaithful person. I feel that I had been more helpless than unfaithful as the circumstances had warranted. My father had totally rejected the idea of me marrying her. We had been quite serious in college about our relationship.
I had seen her on the first day of college and lost my heart to her. It took some antics from my side to convince her to look at me. At first she did not notice me. I had to befriend her best friend to catch her attention. I had implored her to introduce us. We had dated for four years through our engineering college degree course. The whole college expected us to get married.
In the final year, I thought of introducing her to my family. She also wanted to introduce me to hers later. We belonged to the same religion and caste and believed that there would not be any objection from both sets of parents on that front. I took her to Indore after we finished our final exams. She stayed with her friend in the city.
It was an uncomfortable moment for me talk about my relationship to my parents who had big dreams for my wedding. Her family was well-off but my parents were highly conservative, business-class people and wanted me to marry into a much wealthier family.
“Ma, Papa, I want you to meet somebody,” I said meekly.
“Who is it?” my mother frowned.
“It is a friend; we studied in college together.” I purred softly.
“Why do you want us to meet her? Don’t tell me you have been seeing somebody without telling us!” she stiffened.
My father gestured her to soften down.
“Ok we’ll meet her,” he said decidedly.
The next day I took my parents to meet Anaya at a restaurant. After the initial civilities my father asked her astutely, “So what does your father do?”
“He retired as a senior officer in the Railways,” she replied.
I saw my father’s face squirm with disgust. The meeting lasted for an hour and we all came back home.
“She trapped you!” my mother exclaimed.
“She knows that you are from a rich business family and she wants to live a comfortable life,” she cried.
“No that’s not true, Mom! We both love each other and it was me who liked her first.” I tried to argue.
“You are a fool! Your dad did not work so hard his entire life and build this empire so that you could marry a middle-class girl? Is this why we paid so much capitation fee and sent you to do engineering? You have turned out to be quite an ungrateful person!” she burst out.
I couldn’t argue any further and retreated to my room. That night Anaya texted me to ask how the meeting was and what my parents were thinking. She had sensed that they had not taken a liking to her. I told her to wait until I sorted things out, but somewhere deep down inside I knew that my parents would never accept her.
The next day she left for her hometown. She had said that she would not discuss our relationship with her parents until mine gave their assent for it. The next few days at home were filled with tension. My father was scarcely speaking to me. My mother would serve me food in an indifferent manner.
I spent most of my day hanging out with friends to avoid the tension at home. I would return home late at night after my parents had retired to bed and would get up late in the morning to avoid having breakfast with them. A few months passed away like this and there was an awkward silence in my life. My parents had distanced themselves from me and my interaction with Anaya had become minimal. I had no answer to give her and no commitment to make. Daily conversations had reduced to weekly text messages.
And then one day the earth-shattering call came from my mother while I was out with my friends.
“Come home now,” she sobbed.
“What happened?” I asked very worried.
“Pa..papa has had a heart attack...” she said frantically.
“What?” I exclaimed.
The next few days are like a haze to me now. Trips to the hospital, doctors, medicines and procedures. My mother was hysterical most of the time. It was two weeks later that we finally came home.
My father looked frail and beaten-down.
“You must be more responsible now,” my mother said amidst her tears. “You have to take care of the business and family now,” she continued.
There was a long pause. Suddenly she took my hand into hers and said, “Keep your hand on mine and swear that you will never see that girl again”.
My hand recoiled and I stood there surprised.
“But what’s that got to do with this?” I asked.
“Everything!” she said.
“Since the day your dad met that girl, he has been stressing about the wrong choice you made,” she said.
“You cannot go on with her! So promise me if you want to see your dad alive that you will sever all ties with her,” she said.
Once again I retreated to my room. I was a lost, helpless man. I had lost the battle to marry the girl of my choice. I had given up. I couldn’t betray the trust of my parents and I could not hurt them anymore.
The next day I saw a text from Anaya. “So what’s going on?” she asked.
“I told you that my father’s suffered a stroke. My house is in a mess, I need time to sort this out.” I messaged back.
“How much time do you think it will take?” she asked.
“Forever!” I replied.
That was the last message exchanged between the two of us. She had blocked me from her social media accounts. Through common friends I heard that she had secured a job in a prestigious company and had moved to Hyderabad.
I stayed on in Indore tending to the family business. But my heart was not in it and it began to reflect in the business. Every month we were making less and less profit. The business had started dwindling. And then came a point when we were just breaking even. We had to cut our expenses and lifestyle significantly.
When my father resumed work, he was shocked to see the state of the finances in the company. His ego suffered to see how his business had declined. He got even angrier with me. An era of unpleasant relationships with my parents had set into my life. There was no escape. I had to keep working under his tutelage. Every day I was told in different ways how inefficient I was and how little he trusted me with anything to do with finances.
He controlled the finances securely while I ran around getting the logistics of the business sorted. But who could I complain to? This was the life I had chosen myself.
I had not been able to fight for my love and now I had reached a point where I had lost all dignity at work as well. My personal and professional life felt like hell. My friends were my only solace. So when the invitation to attend the wedding in Bengaluru arrived, I made up my mind to go and meet all my college friends. But the last thing I had expected to see was her at the airport. I wondered why she was catching the flight from Delhi airport when her last known location was Hyderabad.
I was now moving towards the boarding gates and as I walked on the conveyer belt, I noticed her towards my left. She was at the gate which was announcing the departure of the flight to Hyderabad. She was holding the hand of a man who appeared to be in his early thirties and both of them looked lovingly into each other’s eyes. She did not notice me but I saw enough to know that she was happy and had moved on with her life. There was a pain in my chest but also a feeling of relief at the same time. It seemed like a burden was lifted off my chest; perhaps she had forgiven me for the betrayal.