My native place is not exactly a village. One could see latest cars on its streets. However it was and is way behind in time compared to metro cities like Mumbai and Pune. I was in 7th standard when we had to shift to Mumbai. I still remember the day. It was impossible for me to accept my dad’s decision. I loved my city, I loved Barshi. You might have never heard about it, and probably will never. All my friends, relatives, schoolmates, theater mates, my cricket team, my dog Sheru were here. I was a hero of my town. What was the need? All my efforts and tactics failed in front of my dad. The bus was to leave in the night. I was seriously hoping to catch fever, break my bone or anything that could prevent me from going to the big city. What would I do there? Alone?
. . .
And I was so right. I hated Mumbai. It was the hate at first sight. Everyone in my school used to make fun of me, my mannerisms and my dialect. Back at my town I was a topper. Here I was nowhere in the competition. I remember crying in front of my dad, urging him to take me back to my town. He said that he was not worried about me missing my town, but about something else. I dint understand his words at that age.
Slowly I got acclimatized to the polluted culture of Mumbai. In fact I started enjoying it. I made some “buddies”. I started enjoying my privacy. I loved the glamor and glitz of the city. Mumbai is a city that never sleeps. With computers came video games, with internet came chat rooms. The smell of perfumes was winning over the smell of first rains. Cafe coffee day was winning over the cutting chay at the railway station. Skype was winning over the missed calls. NFS won over the cycle races across the field.
Very quickly I understood the formula for “Winning”. Winning is that ruthless horse that does not stop or care for anyone. If you want to ride it you are not allowed to doze off even for a single moment. Winning earns you respect, Winning makes you popular, Winning makes you successful, Winning makes you a hero, Winning is addictive, and Winning is everything. I used to make fun of my dream of becoming a Painter back then in my childhood days. Everyone used to say that I was gifted. And today I had the offer letter with a fat package in my hand. It was one of the reputed firms in the field of Animation. It had always been my dream ever since my college days to work for them…at least for next 2 years before I ditched them for a bigger and better package. I almost laughed at my retired father when he asked me whether I was interested in relocating back to Barshi. He had a concerned expression on his face for some reason unknown to me. I dint care much.
. . .
Behind every successful man there is a woman…I disagree….behind every successful man there are many. Although I dint have time for silly girls and any relationships, I was master of flirting. I have won many dates with gorgeous girls. They all were good but nowhere close to what I was expecting.
And then I saw her. Alisha was Hottt man. She could kill anyone with her smooth legs and hazel eyes. She was the daughter of a famous lawyer. She never tried to hide her riches. She was social, she was irresistible. Every boy wanted to talk to her. She used to be the center of attention of all the parties. She was a dancer, she had acted in dramas, she was into adventure sports, she was in my heart. I knew I wanted to marry her. I wanted to win her over all possible contestants. I wanted to appear better than all her ex-boyfriends. I wanted her at any cost.
Shit! I messed up my first date with her. After 6 months and 23 days I had convinced her for a date. She turned out to be too smart, too bold for me. Never mind, losing is something I am very bad at. This time I won’t fail.
. . .
I hate parents when they pressurize us into these bloody old fashioned arranged marriages. They told me that she was my childhood friend Vrushali. Yuk, that stupid village girl! Out of question my dear dad and mom. And who has time for going to Barshi. We have a new project in pipeline and yes this time I do not want to go unprepared for my second date with Alisha. This is a do or die situation for me. Look, I have nothing against the small town. It is good. But the place from where I am standing, it appears like a small insignificant dot. Agreed I liked it once, but things have changed, I have changed. I have become a shark, and Barshi appears like a small stagnated smelly pond.
Indian parents are very good at “Emotionally blackmailing” their kids. I don’t understand what pleasure do they derive out of this. It was impossible to believe that I was standing at Barshi bus depot…at 5 in the morning…with no one to receive me. That was humiliating for the man of my stature. If my parents were smart, I was smarter. I had already mailed that Vrushali gal about my decision and about how I was being forced into this. I dint get any reply. This village people open email accounts and never visit it for years. Stupid! And I hate being forced into something I don’t like.
In Indian arrange marriages there is a ceremony where potential bride’s family meets potential groom’s. Presence of everyone ensures that the two get no privacy and then the family members declare that they have no problems with the marriage. How stupid! I had made my plans. I went out to the nearby town in the morning asking my parents to directly go to her place. I ditched them. They deserved some punishment. It was no big deal. I apologized to Vrushali on her mail ( which I knew she was never going to check). I was expecting a big fight at my home. Surprisingly no one especially my dad dint say anything. They behaved as if nothing had happened. Man, that was damn suffocating ! Brushing aside my guiltiness I decided to enjoy next couple of days there.
Day1: I decided to go on sight seeing. Barshi had changed. New malls were coming up. There were many new colleges. One could sometimes spot Audi A7 and BMWs on the streets. I had to agree that it was still beautiful. The outskirts of the town were still green. Nothing had disturbed it over so many years. I visited every place I used to spend time in my childhood. In fact I clicked so many pics. Probably I was never going to come back again.
Day2: I had to attend some stupid marriage ceremony in the afternoon. It was hot and it was humid. The village people showed their skills in making the place dirty in their own way. Anyway it was my penultimate day there. I decided to ignore it all. I met my old friends and cousins. They behaved as if they had just met me yesterday. There was no formality between us. They made fun of me, I in turn pulled their legs. The old days were back. I do not remember laughing my lungs out in recent times. And I got humbled listening to their stories. I was not the only one who was making rapid strides in his career. Some of them were more successful than me, yet they dint have to show it off. They were so good at mixing with elders, kids and villagers. This was the World I left behind a long time back. Something was not good about it.
In the evening we decided to play a game called Mafia. It is very addictive game. There are two teams: good guys and bad guys aka mafias. No one exept mafias knows who is who. Mafias kill one person at night. And everyone votes out a possible Mafia in the day. The Priest has the power to give life a limited number of times. Everyone tries to prove that he is not a Mafia. An umpire, or God controls the whole game.
Our team won the first game. My friend Anil had to go. We needed one player. Suddenly someone asked Vrushali to join us. Shit! What was she doing here? I couldn’t look up at her. And when I did….I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She was the most beautiful lady ever I have seen since the time of big bang. Wow! How could I be so cruel so someone as petite as her? BIG MISTAKE! My heart was kicking my brain hard in his butt. She was a flawless beauty. She was comfortable in her own skin. You know the kind of persons who know they are special yet are down to earth. And her dressing, it was so elegant. She carried herself well. She looked like an angel in front of whom even the worst of the criminals will feel ashamed of doing something wrong. And she had this natural smile on her glowing face. Everything about her was so uncomplicated, so pure, so natural.
She waved her hand at me. There was no hurt or sarcasm in her mannerism. She sat near me. Her mild perfume was making it impossible for me to concentrate on the game. Yet she was so comforting. She appeared like a old lost friend. I passed a cheat saying ” I am sorry” and made a crying smiley. She replied by sketching a smiling clown sans his front teeth.
We kept on playing till the dawn. Sometimes we two were in the same team, sometimes we were in the opposite. There was a game in which she was the priest and game me a life. Two days later(in the game’s context) I killed her. I was the mafia. How true the situation was! I won that game. But I felt like I had lost the bigger game of life.
After the game me and Vrushali kept on talking like early times. There was so much to talk about. We never ran out of topics. She surprised me when she told me that she had done phd in Microbiology from Georgetown University. I instantly felt naked in front of her. What attitude I was carrying for so many years? It was so hollow. I was so hollow, so shallow. Success had made me the most unsuccessful man in my own eyes. There was sparkle in her eyes when she talked about immunology and discovering god knows some protein-protein interactions, and alien stuff like that. She had come back to Barshi to open her own research institute there. Hmm, interesting. She could live in her home town + generate employment there, thereby giving back to the society + take advantage of very low running cost of the institute apart from the climate suitable for the experiments. ” Everything has beauty. It’s us who choose not to see it. Don’t waste your life fooling yourself.”. Those were her last words for me. She told me that wherever we would be 10 years from then, she had great expectations from me. I was always a topper for her. It’s just that I chose wrong subjects to top. I felt a strange kind of emptiness while saying her goodbye. Something was not right.
. . .
Back at my office, everything had changed for me. Everything had changed in just 24 hours. My mind kept running back to Barshi. Something was not right. I remembered those trips, my friends, rather my true friends. I remember that fallen tree I clicked during my trip. I kept remembering the fields, the farmers, their cattle, the river, the boat, the colleges, the stupid marriage and the stupid people. I laughed at myself. I remember playing tricks at the game of mafia. I remembered the “cutting chay” treat. Something was not right.
A week passed, yet another, and yet another. Something was not right. My mind kept going to my native place. My family was winning over the corporate family. River was winning over the water parks. Cutting chay was winning over the Cafe Coffee day. The temples were winning over the Multiplexes. Flowers were winning over the artificial scents. Vru was winning over Ali. Ignoring Alisha’s 15th missed call, I booked a ticket for Barshi.
If last trip was hard, this was mission impossible . I hurt some good people out there. I would apologize, I would beg, I would do anything to win their hearts back. The toughest moment was to face Vrushali. I had broken her heart. I had insulted her like no one else would. I deserved punishment. I wanted her. I wanted to marry her, and only her, and no one else. I knew this time, rather for the first time in my life that everything was right.
10 years later: Now:
My wife runs her research lab. To make a long story short, after a lot of failing, soul searching, getting rejected and failing again, finally I opened up an educational cum commercial institute dedicated to drawing, painting, photography and animation. I take external animation projects. Even though it’s not a giant yet, it’s gaining momentum. May be I don’t want to grow it into a giant. And yes sometimes my wife forces me to do some projects for her institute: some protein folding and horrible stuff like that. she says that that is my punishment for breaking her heart some ten years ago. That’s totally unfair. But I love getting manipulated by her. We have made many educational animations and sell it at a very nominal cost to villagers for their kids. People come from faraway places just to visit our institutes and to see the changes they have brought to the lives of people. Our combined efforts by the grace of god had motivated many people to follow their hearts and to do give back to the community. Overall, life is good. And we are content.
And yes, this is something private. Do not tell this to our students and to my kids. Me and Vru still go to that secret place on the west side hill and watch the Sun setting holding each others hands. I whisper in her ears: “thanks for coming in my life”. I do not get any reply from her. I just feel a wet patch on my left shoulder.