Now, she was a different person. There was no skip in her step, her eyes were cloudy, her head hung low and her arms were wrapped around her chest.
The morning of 15 January was as chilly as it could get. New Delhi had woken up to a thick sheet of fog; visibility was practically zero.
Advaita was awake with her head huddled under a pillow, pretending to be asleep. The sight of the marigold flowers lining the balcony nauseated her. There were people swarming all over the house. She knew getting out of bed would mean them flocking around her and suffocating her further.
Where was Atharv! Why couldn’t he just storm in and whisk her away! Just the thought of him brought back all the memories, and with it the tears. A huge sob found its way out of her gut.
Her mother, sitting on the other side of the bed, knew Advaita was awake. She also knew her daughter was crying, but there was little she could do. Her last attempt at holding her daughter close hadn’t gone well.
It had seemed as if Advaita had forgotten how to breathe. Advaita had gone blue in the face as her mother had tried to console her. She wished she could help Advaita understand that Atharv wasn’t coming back.
Advaita and Atharv had met in college. Advaita was in a girls’ college in New Delhi and Atharv was studying medicine in Chennai. He was her best friend’s, cousin. They met when he was in town and had come to see Srishti- the best friend.
As the seasons flew past, Atharv and Advaita became inseparable. When they weren’t together, they were either WhatsApping each other or exchanging texts on Facebook, or video-calling. New Delhi and Chennai may be 2000 km apart, but for Advaita and Atharv it was just three hours of distance.
After two years of dating, they decided to get married. It was smooth sailing. The families were happy and went about getting the dates and other logistics in place. They were to get married in three months.
‘It is too good to be true,’ Advaita told Atharv one day.
‘Shhh,’ he said, ‘don’t jinx it.’
Three days later, Atharv was dead. He was returning from the gym when a teenager driving a sedan lost control and ran over him.
Advaita’s world crashed. She sank to the floor when her sister broke the news to her. The next few days were a blur, she had to be rushed to hospital. Heavily sedated, she barely felt anything.
When she was discharged, she was a different person. There was no skip in her step, her eyes were cloudy, her head hung low and her arms were wrapped around her chest.
A year later, nothing had changed. Her parents tried everything from therapy to vacations to leaving her alone. At that point, Yatharth, the son of one of Advaita’s father’s friend, came to New Delhi. He lived in Mumbai and had come to the city for an interview.
Two days after he left, his father called Advaita’s father and said that Yatharth wanted to meet Advaita. Her father was overjoyed. Maybe his daughter still had a chance at happiness. He hoped Yatharth would drag her out of her misery.
Soon, Yatharth started calling Advaita on his way back from work every day. When in town, he would pick her up from her office. He would ask her to pick a place and off they would go. From Connaught Place to Saket to Vasant Kunj to Murthal to Gurgaon, they saw it all.
But one look and it was easy to tell that it wasn’t such a happy arrangement after all. Advaita spoke only when spoken to. The only time she smiled was when Yatharth pulled a puppy face after accidentally dropping his tub of popcorn at a movie theatre.
A couple months later, he proposed. Advaita, still numb, managed a nod. She felt nothing. No joy, no excitement, no pain. She was blank. Everyone around her called her ‘so lucky.’ She wondered why.
Deep down, she missed Atharv. She missed his booming voice that always told her not to worry. ‘I’ll handle it’, he would say. She missed how he held her hand when they walked through crowded malls, how safe his arms around her made her feel. How reassuring his mere presence was, how one stare from him managed to tell the men looking at her to stay away. Her mother beamed when he came over, her father loved going out for beers with him, her sister considered him her best friend.
Advaita snapped back to reality. Her mother’s gentle hand on her back told her it was time to get up. She bathed and stepped out into the garden for her haldi ceremony.
Later that evening, as she walked down the cobbled pathway in all her bridal finery to the dais where Yatharth waited for her, she was conscious of all the eyes on her. But what bothered her the most was Yatharth. He never looked away from her- his eyes followed her all the way. His hand was firm when he helped her up the two little steps.
Advaita wanted to run away but she knew her lehenga would weigh her down. Besides, who would she run to! Atharv wasn’t a phone call away any more.
Later, with the pandit chanting mantras, Yatharth and Advaita were married. It was a gorgeous ceremony, she was told. Advaita, however, couldn’t even remember what Yatharth was wearing.
Days passed into months. Advaita settled into a mundane routine. They had settled in New Delhi ultimately. She woke up before Yatharth, packed both their lunches. And woke him up before leaving for work.
She would get back before him, prepare dinner, lay it on the table and sleep shortly after Yatharth returned. By this time, she had lost interest in dancing and swimming: the loves of her life.
For an outsider, they were the perfect couple. Young professionals who lived from weekend to weekend and took several trips. But only Yatharth knew what it was like to live with a partner who was good as a moving dead body. He too had tried everything to get her to talk, to just smile one more time.
Until one day he lost his cool. He flew into a rage and repeatedly asked her what she wanted, he was ready to do anything, only if knew what it was! It was only when he smashed a crystal vase that Advaita looked up.
He was so much like Atharv. His broad shoulders, his caramel brown eyes, his trying-to-be-curly hair and his chiseled jawline. She kept staring at him. The voices of all the people, including her parents and sister, that kept telling her to give life another chance echoed in her ears.
She could see Yatharth flinging his arms about, trying to get a reaction out of her, but she couldn’t move. Memories of her wedding day came back. How he had reached out for her hand, how he had ensured she was comfortable all through, how he was always there, taking care of every little need of hers.
With him, she felt fine. Sure, it was nothing like what she felt for Atharv. But at least she could breathe in front of him, she could let her guard down around him. What she forgot was the damage she was doing to him.
The next thing she knew, Yatharth was kneeling before her, tears burning their way down his face. His eyes were bloodshot. Instinctively, she reached out and sank her head into his chest.
For a moment, Yatharth couldn’t react. And then he enveloped her in an embrace. I can live with this, she thought. I can be happy; I want to be happy. That day, she spoke her first complete sentence to him.
‘Can we go to the dhaba near Qutab Minar? You haven’t been there yet and I really want to eat those paranthas.’
‘Hell, yes! Name it and it shall be done!’
Advaita and Atharv had been wanting to go to that dhaba for a while, but that had never happened. She wanted to go there and lay his memories to rest. And who better than Yatharth to go with. Maybe after this she would be able to move on. At least, she hoped that would be the case.
Radiating with joy, Yatharth too wished for it to be a turnaround.
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Manmarziyaan
A former journalist married to a sailor, I currently work with a leading publishing house
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