It was drizzling in Bombay and Marine Drive never looked prettier than on that August noon. I reached near the Air India building where I was supposed to meet her, realising very well that I was nearly 20 minutes late.
As I approached the tall tower, I saw her, sitting under a neat porch beneath a tree, head buried in reding ‘Catch 22’, bangles in hand, covered in dark brown Mehendi, and that nose ring? That was new, but she looked so good. I paused for a bit just to capture that sight. This idiot, my idiot, might undergo a huge change from tomorrow.
I proceeded, hands already holding my ears.
“Don’t. It won’t work. Don’t even try to be cute,” Aliya said without even looking at me from her book. Damn! “Listen, there was huge traffic. And my boss? God you know him. Plus the work? God you know that too,” I tried cooking up a story.
She shut the book with a loud thud, removed her specs and finally made eye contact. “Of all the days Aryan, you had to be late today?! You know how difficult it was for me to sneak out?”
How could she manage to look this cute, I asked myself.
I quickly grabbed her hand and pulled her towards me. She stood up as her face banged my shoulders. “Ouch! You idiot!” she said and punched, slipping away a mild giggle.
I ran with her to sit on the Marine Drive, holding her hands, as my fingers kept touching those bangles, reminding me that from tonight our relationship won’t be the same again.
“How did you mange to come out?” I asked curiously, adjusting myself to the sea view while opening an umbrella to cover us. “Don’t ask!”, she threw her hands up in the air. “It was so damn tough. There was this uncle and aunty after me, I thought I won’t be able to make it. Thankfully Shruti is there covering up for me,” Aliya said, while crossing her legs and keeping the book on her lap.
“And on top of that, you know, all these rasmo-reevaaz, shaadi se pehle ye mat karo, waha mat jao, TUM se mat milo!” she said pulling my cheeks.
“Of course. And the way you are dressed, this pink salwaar kurti, mehendi, bangles, all you need is to change into your ghagra. Bhaag kay shaadi kar lete hai abhi, what do you say?”
Aliya laughed and pushed me. “Can’t even wait till tonight?”
Of course. I couldn’t. I kept looking at her smilingly as she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, allowing the moist winds of Bombay to tickle her hair.
We used to come at marine drive ever since we started dating. In fact, it was here that we started bonding and interacting beyond the small talks. It was here that we both fell in love with each other in college. Nariman Point had sort of become our own place. Our happy-sad place.
“Look at these college kids, that couple over there,” Aliya said pointing to a couple who were wrapped around each other, on a rock, little far away. “They don’t even know what’s coming their way.”
The couple were engrossed in each other. The boy slowly caressed the girl as they both fixed their eyes on the vast ends of the sea.
“As of now the only thing coming their way is a wave,” I say and immediately get shouted at. “ARYAN ya!” She said. “Think about it. College romance, that babu-baby waala pyaar? When you are going through that, it looks as if its the only thing which matters. Nothing and nobody else.”
“Yes. But isn’t this how it’s supposed to be? I mean that’s how most people start, with the hope to finish that way too. You remember how we were in college?”
She shuts her eyes giggling and says “No no no no not that please.”
I knew Aliya all along during my college years but it was only towards the final semester that we actually started talking. For years before our first ‘Hi’, I’ve had a terrible love life. None of my relationships ever worked, despite my thinking that I was doing everything right.
I had gone into my own shell after my previous relationship failed. I had decided that perhaps this isn’t for me. This babu-baby wala pyaar. Then one day I was forced to go out with friends. We bunked college, and there I was, at Marine Drive. Little did I know, of all the places in Bombay, it would be here that I would find peace.
I kept on coming to this place ever since I was a kid. Yet, this was the first time I saw the most beautiful view ever. It was Aliya. Singing, dancing, lost in her own world. Her energy was contagious. After a year of living in denial of love, meeting her was as if I was held by my collar, slapped multiple times and had buckets of cold water poured on me on an icy 4AM winter morning.
It woke me up.
“You don’t want me to remind you of just how clingy girlfriend you were during college? So, stop being this pessimistic cry baby. And wake up!” I said.
Aliya turned towards me, kept her hands on mine and said, “Yaar Aryan,” she paused, “I am freaking out. Darr lag raha hai. Shaadi se pehle aisa hota hai kya?”
“Well, I didn’t feel scared during my fifth wedding so…” She makes a face shows me her tongue.
We both stare at the high rise buildings on Malabar hills, quietly taking in the beauty of the city when Aliya breaks the silence and asks for a cigerate. I give her a puzzled look with a wide grin on my face. She is serious.
I handover one, and light it for her. I knew she smoked everytime she was tensed. “Nervous about the marriage?” I ask, holding her hands softly.
Aliya doesn’t respond and blows the smoke in the air, nonchalantly. She looks at me, her eyes carefully observing my face.
“We have come so far yaar. Wow. I sometimes look back and wonder just how much we have travelled together, emotionally,” she said.
“A lot,” I say, “We have seen some crazy times!” “No, but don’t you think there should be a way to measure how far we have come in love?” She said excitedly, blowing smoke and quickly turning her body towards me. That’s exactly the thing she did everytime she had to share a stupid idea.
“Like, how you measure distance in km, why can’t we have something concrete to measure love?”
“Years,” I say quickly, “You can measure how strong your love is from the number of years you’ve spent together. That’s a testimony.”
“Naah,” she said before taking another puff from her cigerate. “That’s bullshit. I have seen people living together for decades without really loving each other and then some who last barely months but are madly in love.”
I pondered over that thought and looked around. There was an old couple on our right. The elderly man was helping his wife climb the porch, holding his hands steadily and gently.
“May be that’s how you measure it?” I said. “Help each other grow. Together.” Aliya looked at them fondly, turned her head towards me and observed me for a few seconds. She took a deep breath
and asked, “Will you hold me? Forever?”
When I had met her, I realised, she was everything I once was and now wanted to be. You see, it’s less about falling in love with a particular quality of a person and more about falling in love with something in that person which reminds you, of you. Someone you were, or someone you want to be.
Aliya’s attitude towards life helped me shape the way I started leading mine. Soon, I figured that while it was her energy and care-a-damn attitude which reminded me of myself, for Aliya it was my optimism. She grew up watching her parents fight, barely talking to each other. To her, love meant a forced union, a make believe world for rasmo-reevaaz.
Untill, we happened. I reminded her of fairy tale romances, of world which existed beyond societal norms, of all thing filmy but real. I reminded her, to dream about love and marriages, again.
Aliya suddenly realised what she had asked and quickly turned her face away from mine. I gave a small smile, knowing well that this was a topic we didn’t want to touch, hours before the wedding.
“You came to my life when I was at the lowest,” Aliya said looking at the sea, watching waves hit the rocks. “It might sound cliched, but you were the light to my darkness,” she said, throwing the cigerate butt.
I smiled and said, “Because I thought you deserved all the shine in the world. I did nothing. You had it in you, all throughout. May be I just helped you see that. See you.”
Dark clouds are nowgathering over the skyline, with winds becoming slightly more cold and fierce. “Remove the umbrella,” she says. “I want to feel this weather. Please don’t shield me from anything.”
“You know I was thinking…” I say but Aliya interrupts. “It’s getting late Aryan. I think I should leave.” I nod slowly. “But I am so happy that I am seeing this day with you. I mean,” she says and pauses to search the right words.
“I don’t even know if this would’ve been possible without you. Thank you. For always being there.”
I give her a soft hug from the side, and try to hide my tears.
“Can I ask you something Aryan?” She looked at me, her eyes, too, slightly moist. “Have you moved on from me?”
That’s the thing with relationships. Whether a married couple filing for divorce after 30 years of staying together, or a college couple breaking up after months. Sometimes, despite everything right, there are still things which are beyond our control. Sometimes, I feel, all the love in the world is not enough.
After 8 years of being together, we fell apart. For all my promises of a love beyond societal norms, traditions and strong orthodoxes, failed. When it happened, our breakup, it was as if nothing else, no one mattered. Breaking up is just as intense as falling in love. It makes you go mad.
But you know how your soulmate reminds you of you? I thought, before I came to her life, Aliya was still pretty okay with things around her. She should be that, even after me, without me.
We both held each other after our break up and promised that we would let the times spent together change us for the better. At least, till we can deal with it.
“I need to go,” Aliya says and gets up, as clouds start thundering. “I was advised not to meet you today. But how could I not? We owe this much to each other. I owe it to you, to us. I don’t know how it’ll turn out…”
“Yes, why is it that I am the only one panics. What if he doesn’t turn out like you? What if I am not happy?”
“But what if he does? Listen, Aliya, listen to me,” I say holding her tightly. “It will be fine. I have faith in you.” She keeps her hands on her forehead.
“Congratulations for the wedding,” I say. “It’ll be good. Don’t worry.” She looks at me, like a glass on the verge of being shattered and says, “Don’t come tonight, Aryan, please. You know they…” I interrupt her and add, “I won’t. I promise.”
“And anyway you won’t miss much,” she says, “It’s pure veg.” We both burst into laughter, choking away with tears followed by a long silence where all we could hear was the sound of waves splashing the rocks.
It starts raining, which camouflages the tears of Aryan and Aliya. She walks away in a hurry, looking back at him to catch a final glimpse. He sits there, watching her go, watching her slip away from his sight as she walks past his sight. He sits there alone, on the same spot where they had found each other…
8 years ago:
Aryan: I want this place to be special for us. I love you, I want to marry you, makes babies, make an entire cricket team with you! I love you. I really love you.
Aliya, quickly turns her body towards Aryan. That’s exactly the thing she did everytime she had to share a stupid idea: I love you too baby! You know what.
Aliya: We will come here, at this very spot, all the time. We will come here now as college kids.
Aliya: Then later when we are getting married, I would be all dressed up and you would look ok-ok too. We would come here straight from the ceremony?
Aryan: Yes mam!
Aliya: And then later when we grow old, we would come here too. We would come here, no matter what. You’ll have difficulty walking, but we will be here. We will have grand children, but we will be here. The world may break apart, but we will be here.
Aryan: Sure thing!
Aliya: Just tell me, Will you hold me? Forever?
Aryan looks at her, hugs her tightly, and smiles.