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It was a very distinct memory that Rishab had of the afternoon that he first met Neha. She had just started interning at the construction company where he worked, and he was entrusted by his boss, Mr. Mehta to be her mentor.
The moment she walked into the meeting room where Mr. Mehta was to formally introduce them, Rishab immediately felt that they were destined to meet. He felt she was going to be someone who would have a huge impact on his life.
The weeks that passed saw the two getting close to each other, as they used to frequent sites and attend meetings together.
Though Rishab was totally smitten, he found Neha totally focused on her career, and did not seem to think of Rishab in any other way except her mentor. Through their talks and daily encounters Rishab tried to find out more about Neha. Even though he did not seem to get any romantic feelings from Neha, he had this unshakeable feeling that she was someone he needed to protect. Though Neha extruded a very vibrant and effervescent personality, he couldn’t help notice that this was but a façade that she put up to hide something deep and dark. Which is why he was being so inquisitive and tried to find more about Neha from co-workers. But try as he might, he could not paint a complete picture of her personality.
That was until the day he got to experience first-hand the kind of person that Neha was.
The two were to go on a site visit that day when Neha called to inform him of her father’s demise. She sounded so calm and composed during the conversation that it made Rishab worried. After completing the site visit, he rushed to Neha’s house and the sight of her managing her father’s funeral gave him a jolt. With a handicapped brother and a mother who was in sudden shock over her husband’s death, and among squabbling relatives, she went about giving instructions to workers, made calls for the funeral and handled all the paperwork that was required, like a living corpse herself. Rishab was very concerned about her because unlike the many women whom he had seen grieving, here was a young iron lady who went about the scene of her beloved father’s demise like a task at hand that was to be completed. He worried that all the grief inside her would eventually crumble her, but from what he gathered about her character from her friends who had come, was that she was a “brave-heart”.
He had never felt such an intense desire to safeguard a friend in his entire life, to hug her, comfort her and tell her, that everything would be fine. But societal norms and fears kept him far away from executing such thoughts and he could only remain a mute spectator, while she fought the biggest battle in her life.
After the funeral, Rishab did not see her for twenty days. She finally came to office looking distraught, and though she tried to maintain her calm composure accepting condolences that came her way, Rishab saw the fragility of her soul in her deep, big eyes. It was as if all the grief, despair and emotional turmoil were eating away the rigidity of her resolution and she seemed ready to disintegrate anytime.
Rishab quickly took control of the situation, pulled her away from the mourning crowd and took her away to the emergency exit stairwell just in time to see Neha finally vent her sorrow out. For the first time he saw the father’s daughter mourn what was probably the greatest loss in her life. All the tears that she had dammed up flowed uncontrollably on Rishab’s chest, and for the first time he realized that what he felt towards Neha was indeed love, but not of the romantic kind. It was a kind of love that one has for one’s protégé, a friendship built on the basis of compassion and understanding.
Having lost his father when he was just a child and seeing the struggles of his mother to raise him and give him a proper life, Rishab had always felt the urge to comfort her. But being the strong willed and resolute woman that she was, his mother had always been his rock, and hence when an opportunity arose Rishab projected his long suppressed desire of being a protector onto Neha. The universe had probably conspired for them to meet at such a designated period in their lives.
Going ahead Rishab proved to be the anchor that helped Neha through all the storms in her life. From mentoring her career, and bringing her life back on track after her father’s loss, helping her plan and manage finances and arranging a caretaking plan for her family so that she could focus on building her career, Rishab was always there by her side. She also became a pal he could approach easily and pour his heart out to. They were always there for each other in all their heartbreaks, achievements, promotions, marriage and all the milestones in their lives.
Even though it is said that a man and a woman can never have a platonic friendship, Rishab and Neha flouted all such societal rules and regulations to prove that a bond between two human beings irrespective of gender, race, age or any physical traits can be special. A genuine, meaningful connection can be maintained without it having to be labelled or sorted into the conventional relationship stereotypes.
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