“It’s really nice that you guys have decided to give your relationship some time before you tie the knot. Relationships like these need time to build and become strong.” A short story.
Here is the third winner of our November 2016 Muse of the Month contest, Nikita Jhanglani.
The cue was: “When one was reinventing oneself, anywhere could be home.” ― Manju Kapur, The Immigrant
I stand in front of the dressing table, staring at the enormous collection of earrings that my sister has laid out for me. The small pearl studs call out to me but I can’t pick them up. The big silver jhumkas are what I am willing myself to pick up, because that is what I need.
As I stare, deliberate, and will myself, my mind goes back to the time when these were not the choices that I would make. If I was the Aisha from six months back, fat chance that I would be standing in front of a mirror for so long, with multi-colored bangles jingling in my arms and anklets tinkling in my feet, and thinking about wearing those humongous jhumkas. Not to miss the carefully applied liner on my eyelids and a dash of pink on my lips.
But then, I’d come a long way from being that Aisha. I’d done everything I could to no longer be Ashish’s Aisha.
Ashish’s Aisha stayed away from this entire jing bang—that was what I used to call this exercise of dressing up.
Anytime of the day or year that you ran into me, you would always find me dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. And that was how Ashish had liked me to be. But after all that happened six months back, I did not want to be Ashish’s Aisha anymore. I wanted to change myself so much that there was no trace of Ashish’s Aisha left. And when one was reinventing oneself, anywhere could be home! Which is why all this jing bang!
Six months back, Ashish, the man around whom my entire world revolved, got married to Maya Malhotra. Ashish and I were what you’d call childhood sweethearts, or so I thought. Ashish and I stayed two buildings away in the same residential complex. We’d grown up playing in the same playground, going to the same school and college, and doing everything except our jobs together. I adored Ashish. He was the sun and I was the earth. Everything that I did, I would ask Ashish for his opinion first. If Ashish was around, I could face the toughest of situations; when he wasn’t, the happiest of instances failed to cheer me.
He always told me that he liked in my jeans and t-shirt avatar. I remember that day very clearly when I had come back one afternoon after lunch at my bua’s house. When we reached back home, I saw Ashish sitting in complex playground. I ran to meet him ignoring my mother’s orders for first changing out of my dress. We’d gone to my bua’s house to attend a pooja and I was forced to dress in a traditional kurta and churidar, complete with a dupatta. My mother had insisted that I wear matching earrings and bangles. “You need to look like a girl once in a while”, she had reprimanded me.
“Ashish…” I had called out him. I’d ran so fast that I was completely out of breath by the time I reached him. He looked at me and frowned, not quite the reaction I was expecting.
“Where is my Aisha?”
“Huh?” I stood stunned by his question. What did he mean?!
“Where is my Aisha?” Ashish repeated. “My Aisha is not one to be running around in these kind of clothes and all this jing bang.” Yeah, Ashish liked to call it all a jing bang and that is why did I.
I ran back home and changed into my shorts and t-shirts. When I went back to the ground, Ashish put an arm around my shoulders and said, “That’s my Aisha!” That day, I knew with more clarity than ever that I belonged to Ashish.
I still remember the contrast of the day when I first saw Maya. It was new year’s and, like every year, Ashish’s dad had thrown a party where my family was invited too. It was Ashish’s party and there was no way I wasn’t going to go. Every year, both of us together were the loudest in screaming out the countdown. That year, Ashish had been a little aloof since a couple of months and due to my hectic schedule at work, I too hadn’t had chance enough to spend time with him. I was looking forward to the party to catch up with him.
We reached the party venue and I started looking for Ashish but I couldn’t find him anywhere. When I asked some of his cousins if they’d seen him, all they said was that he was preparing for the big surprise. I don’t know how, but I suddenly got the idea that maybe he was planning on proposing to me. His not being around for two months strengthened my assumption that he really did have something up his sleeve—for me.
About half an hour later, Ashish’s dad had taken to the stage and announced the big surprise of the evening. His son Ashish was going to get engaged! I stood rooted to my spot, anxiety and confusion overwhelming me. What was Ashish going to do? Did he know I was here? I looked down at the off shoulder top and jeans that I was wearing and wished that Ashish would’ve given me a hint, so that I could’ve dressed appropriately. But then, this is how Ashish’s Aisha was supposed to look, I thought with an inadvertent smile.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the couple of the evening, my son Ashish and the love of his life, Maya.”
I don’t remember much about how I felt on hearing that announcement. But I have a feeling that that was because I did not feel anything at all. I had gone numb, like somebody had sucked the life out of me. What I remember is how I felt when I saw Maya. Maya was tall and voluptuous. She had a dusky complexion and long hair. She was dressed in an olive green lehenga and, to sum it all in one word, she looked ethereal. I have no words more than that to describe how I felt when I saw Maya because Maya was beautiful beyond words. There was something about her very presence that was alluring, mysterious, like a charm that was spell binding. Maya was everything that Aisha was not. And I wouldn’t give myself any brownie points on guessing why Ashish fell for Maya. A month later, Ashish and Maya were married. I had lost my Ashish to Maya, forever.
I am brought out of my reverie by the message ring on my phone. It is Varun, telling me that he’s going to be late by another half an hour. Varun is my fiancé and today is our first date after we got engaged last week. The past has huddled my brain and I need fresh air. So I quickly put on the jhumkas and go outside to wait for Varun in the complex garden.
I am lost on my phone, when suddenly I sense someone coming to sit down next to me on the bench. I look up and, to my surprise, it is Maya. Maya is dressed in a black sleeveless top and black jeans. Her eyes are lined with extra black kohl and she has left her hair open. Black nail paint adorns her beautifully shaped nails. She still has her chooda on, which still makes me feel a slight resentment towards her, but she isn’t wearing any of the other symbols that announce her as married.
“Hi! Mind if I sit here?” Maya finally speaks. I realize that I’ve just been staring her, which might have really come across as rude.
“Sure”, I manage to mumble and give her a smile.
“Congratulations! When is the big day?” she says.
I’m amazed that she knows I got engaged. Does that mean Ashish is keeping tabs on me? I smack myself mentally at the absurdity of my thoughts; there is a high probability that Ashish and his parents must’ve come to know about my engagement through my parents.
“Thanks”, I say, “We’ve decided to have the ring ceremony on my birthday next month. Varun and I are looking for a wedding date that is at least six months from now.”
“That’s great,” Maya says, staring into the distance.
A silence descends again, before Maya speaks up again.
“It’s really nice that you guys have decided to give your relationship some time before you tie the knot. Relationships like these need time to build and become strong. You are lucky that nobody’s hurrying you up”, she says wishfully.
Maya calling me lucky was something, I thought.
While I chuckled at what Maya said, I couldn’t help but probe a little further. Contrary to my expectations, I wasn’t done away with Ashish’s Aisha completely. Maya sounded like there was trouble in paradise, and the old me couldn’t help but find out.
“You say that like you did not get enough time. Ashish and you had a love marriage, right?”
Maya laughed. It wasn’t vile; her laugh sounded as if she had learned to laugh at herself.
“Time? If Ashish could have had his way, he would have married me the day he first saw me.” Did she really stress on saw or is it my wishful thinking?
I looked at Maya and realized that I saw a different one. This wasn’t the confident, mysterious Maya (I’d stalked her on social media extensively and had a good idea of how Maya was; besides, people talk!). This was vulnerable Maya.
This was a Maya who was probably broken on the inside but was doing all she could to not let the world know.
Something in my expression must’ve given me away, for her next words left me speechless.
“You loved Ashish, didn’t you?”
“How do you know?” The last person I had expected to hear this from was Maya.
She laughed that half sad, half mysterious laugh again.
“People talk darling, people talk.”
I did not like the way Maya sounded. Was she not happy in being married to Ashish? There was something about her, her vulnerability perhaps, which made me believe her more than Ashish.
“I don’t get what you are trying to tell me,” I finally managed to voice out.
Maya looked at me and smiled; like her laugh, her smile too was half sad and half mysterious.
“Let’s just say that what you see isn’t always the truth; there is always a little more to the story. Congratulations again Aisha! I wish that Varun and you have the life that you want.”
And with that, Maya started to walk away, without waiting for a response or reaction from me.
I’d seen the wedding, honeymoon, and other random pictures of Maya and Ashish on the social networking site where I hadn’t had the courage to unfriend Ashish. They went out every weekend, and it was obvious that Ashish adored Maya. Naturally, I had felt so much like a loser in front of Maya.
Now when I looked at the retreating form of Maya, I had my doubts.
Nikita Jhanglani wins a Rs 250 Flipkart voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the 10 top winners at the end of 2016. Congratulations!
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