Raghav was staring outside the car’s window; he saw the street light reflections on the puddles along the sidewalk. The reflection was all blurred by the big raindrops. Ajay was talking something about the chocked rainwater drains and the effect of incessant rain on his new Hush Puppies shoes, but his voice was blurred like the reflections he saw so keenly whooshing past them as they drove down towards the wedding. No matter how hard he thought of something else, how hard he stared at the puddles, the restlessness wouldn’t go. He was half planning to give the wedding a skip. But then Priya would be nuts and he owes her a big thank you for finding Param’s number and helping him out with setting the whole scene between Anju, his love and her only love Param. Also Ajay would get angry on him and he didn’t have a good story to come up with so late, that was convincing enough to let him go without Raghav.
They were driving for around 30 minutes when Ajay asked Raghav whether it was time to call Payal and ask for the exact turn from the highway to reach the Hotel Lawns. Raghav searched for payal in his address book and dialed her number. She answered with a lot of noise in the background.
“ Hey Payal, Raghav here”
“Hey Raghav, whats up maan, long time, where are you? Everyones here”
“Arre Payal, we don’t know the way there, we didn’t look at the map behind the card, we are approaching the shell petrol pump on BL road, where is this Grandeur Lake Hotel”
Payal gave the instructions turn by turn which Raghav spoke aloud for Ajay. Ajay gave a thumbs up and a Thank you to Payal over the Car’s Radio for her to hear over the phone.
Within 5 minutes they were parking in the parking LOT and then walked towards the lobby entrance. A Black checked board with stickem letters in white pronounced “ Bhardwaaj and Singh families welcome you to Reception and wedding of Anjali (Anju) and Sunny.
Ajay laughed, “His name is Sunny Singh, I think the rain gods won over the Sun today”. “Uggghh.. Ajay please that was a sick joke” said Raghav with a wry Smile. “At least you smiled, meri jaan. Come lets go in. Get your ladies magnet out Raghav you’re still single and ready to mingle”.
Raghav smiled. Yeah, heck he was single then why didn’t he hook up with the many female friends and aquantances he had for the past 3 years ever since he left college. He just didn’t feel the need to have someone, to fall in love again. That’s bullshit he thought, I can love again and I will.
He then saw a lovely lady dressed in pink Indian attire, smile at him, he smiled back only to see her walking briskly towards him. He was taken aback. Only when she reached near did he realize it was … “Payal!!! Oh my God, is that you” said Ajay before Raghav could say anything. Payal came across as a tomboy in college and seeing her all decked up in a gorgeous lehenga was a pleasant surprise.
“So you guys found it here finally, Raghav your looking great. Long time yaar ..almost two years!!, How have you been??”
“Fine and you have grown to be a pretty girly since then.. I didn’t recognize you at all” said Raghav.
The Three of them took a table nearby and chatted and caught up with what was happening with who stuff. It was great to go back in time. But even this chat wasn’t keeping Raghav busy. He kept peering at the stage there was no sign of the bride and the groom. Payal caught him craning his neck and looking around. “The wedding is after the Dinner.The groom is yet to arrive. Its fashionable to arrive late for Punjabis- Its baraat time in the rain. I don’t know what’s keeping them they cant even dance in the rain. I hear they are having the baraat conjuncture at the other hotel down the lane in their covered lawn because they cant dance in the rain here… he he”
Ajay and Raghav sniggered. Ajay hesitantly asked in the most casual manner he could “Where is Anjali then” Payal looked at him and said “Getting ready at her Room in the hotel, upstairs, I was there sometime back. She looks gorgeous. Priya has come all the way from Meerut to be here. You never met her na?” Ajay thought how could he forget her “No” he said simply.
He and Priya had the Param secret that wasn’t known to anyone. But it was so long back that he didn’t know if it really made a difference, the childish things about getting Anju and Param together was so laughable now that she was getting married. Love seemed to a thing that you read in novels and fantasized in your adolescence. When it comes to getting tied for life, perhaps things turn out from above.
“So you’ve met the groom?” asked Ajay, Raghav woke up from stupor. This topic was somehow interesting to him. Raghav didn’t know anything about Sunny Singh. “Sunny , is that his real name?” Ajay always had this sense of humor that was always a bit off the target and that made the foot in the mouth situation very amusing, only Ajay was so innocent to his brand of humor, he didn’t know the inside smiles that Payal had on her face. “I know his name is not Sunny, it is some Big Punjabi name but you know Punjabi Pet names stick on more than their real names, why do they keep such large names and then substitute with a small embarrassing pet name which sticks on like embarrassing stickems on your behind, But ya he is a smart Guy and has an IIM, MBA a hi-paying marketing professional in an MNC.”
“So, it’s a Love marriage or Arranged?” Ajay was asking all the questions Raghav wanted to, but was too shy to ask going by their past history and attached baggage. “Its Love and Arranged, that’s the exact words from Anjali when I asked her, and she was really gushing and pink when I asked her, They seem to be in Love, but that was 2 months back, yesterday Anjali was a bit low ,coz she is leaving everything behind. I will miss her, we all had such a memorable time in college” said Payal, choking a little bit..
Women always get too emotional during weddings, thought Ajay and kept his questions to himself. Raghav was deep in thought in a whirlwind of emotions, one moment thinking happy imagining Anju in love and blushing and happy, on the other had he felt bad and felt a twist in his heart, that formed a lump in his throat feeling that this wasn’t for him and how much he missed her every moment. The last 2 years had been a time passed getting busy with work and getting involved in something that would get his mind away from her or calling her. He had thought that feeling had been washed forever with so much water being passed under the bridge. But he realized today that a part of him had never healed and was just hidden in a blanket of mist and clouds but on this rainy day and the clouds had cleared to show the wounds were still red, and the moon was still blue. He felt his eyes well up and he kept staring at the ground. This was the hardest time, he could here Ajay talking to Payal and was glad they didn’t notice him, he looked up and around for the washroom, the posh hotel must have one nearby he thought. “ Ajay, Payal, I’ll be back from the washroom” he muttered and without waiting for a reply swirled and left towards the entrance of the hall, he remembered they had a sign there.
Blurry eyed and his head aching with the effort of staying sane and smiling over the turmoil inside, he stumbled inside the mens washroom and leaned into the wash basin, feeling as if he was gonna be sick. He looked into the mirror, into his own eyes and saw the despair staring back at him, he felt so helpless he wanted to cry, but anyone would walk over him here, he tried to take deep breathes to compose himself. He couldn’t look into his eyes in the mirror for long, he felt this yearning feeling inside and he wanted to cry out loud or atleast get out of here, what was he thinking, this wasn’t a joke, to come to Anjus’s wedding, This was Anju, his only love, his life, this was worse than anything he had ever experienced.
There was only one way to douse this fire of emotions without getting burnt,in this. He thought get the hell out of here. Then he washed his face, wiped it, didn’t look at himself, in self pity in the mirror and walked out. There was a lot of hustle outside, people had crowded the lobby and there was noise of the band playing dance baraat music. Young girls giggling and running and standing on their toes and whispering, all excited. Raghav guessed it before he heard Payal snoop in from behind and say “ The Baraat is here, we are going to welcome it”. Ajay, smacked his back and grinned. “This is fun!!”.
Raghav, stepped out to the verandah of the hotel there was a sea of relatives of the bride with flower garlands waiting to welcome the groom and his relatives. A small girl came upto them and tugged at his knees, Raghav, stooped down and smiled at her, she gave her a garland. Raghav took it, now was he supposed to welcome the baraat of his Anju, he couldn’t feel more weird, he tried to get into the conversation between Payal and Ajay but he kept zoning out into a trance of his mood swings and pangs. It was surreal, standing there, not that he had ever imagined himself to be the groom and swoop Anjali in a wedding. Guys hardly dream of the wedding day, that’s the brides dream. She dreams of this day and whom had Anjali imagined under the veil of flowers on the horse coming to get her into his own dreamland and live happily ever after, the eternal fairytale, that was a gleam in the eye for every girl.
Raghav was now on the enterance of the hotel and could hear the loud band belting out at a crescendo now. And the baraat had gone crazy, dancing more vigourously into a sweat. They were showing off their best moves, to the ladki waalas. He could here “Jijaji aagaye” from the giggling cousins of Anjali, they were genuinely enjoying and tapping their high heels to the music and clapping. Raghav peered at the groom, he couldn’t make out the face from the veil but he could make out that he was well built and had a decent height, he subconsciously felt his hint of pouch and lack of height was overwhelming. He just wanted to get out of here. Payal tugged at this arm and pointed to the hotel building behind on the second floor, at the balcony.
Its then that he saw her, looking down at her groom to be. He was seeing Anju after around 2 years and this was a happy moment for him. Raghav couldn’t help but leave the site of the baraat take a turn and stare up at the bride, his Anju. He had imagined seeing her with her to be groom but now he was seeing her looking on the balcony on a moon lit, cloudy night, the rain had just stopped momentarily and had started to drizzle a little. He had to grouch his face into a frown to avoid the occasional droplet from entering his eyes. Anju had another girl standing next to her. No one had noticed her standing there except Payal who was back to craning her neck and wait for the groom to descend down his high horse.
That’s when there was lightening nearby and he could see her face illuminated from her half ghoonghat, at that moment, with the dramatic sound their eyes met. Anjali had a resolute look of recognition and half surprise, for the first second then it turned into a glaze and then into a half frown half pained look. Raghav couldn’t comprehend her feelings anymore but could see it mirror his own, it was like looking to the mirror without self pity with everything clear, a feeling that only friends that had nothing to hide from each other had.. the rain started pouring heavily and she didn’t move nor did Raghav they kept staring for 3-4 seconds when another lightning and roar from the skies and pushes from people running back to shelter of the porch made him lose her . When he looked back up he saw the French window empty and the curtains drawn. Was that a dream? Raghav wondered the last 10 seconds seemed to go in such a slow motion he thought of so much unsaid between them and yet he felt as if he had the best conversation with his best friend. For a moment he forgot this was not the place, this was not college when they were best friends, this was a wedding with a 200 people waiting to bless anjali and sunny.
Raghav didn’t move to the porch, he was getting wet and was waiting for the curtains to draw, as if he were watching a play and this was an interval, He realized that people were looking at him from the porch, and then he realized they were actually still just looking at the grooms family from the porch across the road and didn’t notice him at all.. thankfully. Feeling akward he walked back to the porch. Ajay was not seen anywhere and so was Payal. He didn’t bother to look. He was beginning to feel guilty about the happiness inside, this was not right you are suppose to move on, he said to himself. He forced out thoughts but they like the sand in your clenched fist kept pouring back out of the mind polluting your thoughts with unworthy and unnecessary emotions. Raghav was in a fight with his mind to leave. But he wanted to wish Anjali goodbye and good luck. That was the least he could do to bury the thoughts fleecing his mind, like a pest… he decided to stay and resolved not to let any crazy unreal thought’s come to his mind.
He was standing looking into infinity, when he felt some one tap his knee again, the flower girl was there again. Just looking at the little girls smile, made Raghav forget the see saw in his head and he knelt down to see what she had to say “ Whats up my Darling, do you need the flowers back? Here you can take mine.” The girl didn’t said she just smiled like and angel and handed him a piece of paper and then turned back and scampered off on her flat foot baby step run across the hotel lobby”.
Raghav unfolded the paper, half expecting a coulorful flower drawing from the young girl. Instead it read “RAGS ROOM 203” It was written with a black makeup article, maybe eye makup. But was most surprising. He hoped this was not a joke and half dreaded whom he would find there. But the note looked urgent with the bare minimum put in the words .
Raghav made up his mind to go and check out. He looked around for Ajay and Payal again, and they were nowhere to be found. Confirming from the reception that 203 was on the second floor he picked up pace to the elevators. As he waited for the elevators he could feel his mind dreading to go and his heart feeling excited at meeting with this stranger.. may be Priya not Anjali. As he entered the lift he could see the Groom had reached the porch and the music had switched to the customary “Bahaaroon phool barsaaaoo … “ soundtrack as the welcome had begun.
After reaching the second floor, Raghav immediately found the room 203, mentally he imagined the bird eye position of the room and guessed that the room wasn’t the one which had Anju and the window. Somewhat reliefed and certain that this was Priya, he knocked the door.
It took some time before the door opened and he saw a girl in peacock blue traditional dress staring at him, she immediately held his hand and pulled him in urgently, she shut the door. We don’t have time, hi im Priya, Anju wants to speak to you, for a minute, she will be here from the next room down the corridor. Actually this connecting door opens there, she will knock when her relatives leave for a minute of so…please wait here.”
Raghav nodded, he said “ Priya you, remember me…na I called you regarding,the phone number,,,whats going on…” Priya looked shaken.. “ I don’t know..ever since she saw you down there…she is feeling as if she needs to clear something with you… I don’t understand why now?… when everything is OK and going well”
Raghav was about to reply back, when the door knocked, Priya jumped with Raghav and ran to the door to unlock it… Raghav just stood there beside the bed..and looked at the most beautiful creation on earth…. He could just not help smiling at her and looking at her ..he just wanted the world to pause so that he could admire her ..
Anjali rushed to Raghav …. Raghav stretched his had to shake hers and she just knocked it aside and came close enough for Raghav to feel uneasy.. he could see he eyes more closely and he was confused as to what was happening. Anjali looked into his eyes for a minute and then in her sweet voice asked “Raghav , I just want to ask you, whether you are fine?”… Raghav took in the words,… he didn’t know what this meant….he just reciprocated “OF course … im fine?”
“Are you telling the truth?”
“Cut it out Anju, get to the point”
“Im just worried Rags that you are not fine with this… I want to know whether you have moved on..”
“Anju why all of this now, I don’t know why it matters now. Ive moved on or not should not matter..but y aim trying and I have to some extent. You tell me have you…??”
“Rags, I didn’t had to…? Im fine… im just feeling that ive given pain to a friend who gave me a lot of support when I needed it.. and when I got my love I have not been a friend to you.. you must have needed a friend during the last 2 years.. like you had been to me during college...during my bad times…you were there..and during yours I was not..that feeling of guilt is eating me from inside from the last two years..if I talk to you..like before..you will never move on.. of your feeling for me…and if I don’t talk to you often, you don’t have a friend like before..why does our friendship need this love..??” Anjali was having tears in her eyes.. but she did a good job of stopping them from rolling down.
Raghav looked aghast at this… he did miss Anju for the last 2 years there was no friend as close as her in his life, but she had chosen to ditch him..when he told her..that he had feelings for her…
Raghav was choking ..he wanted to cry…remove his hidden burden, the feeling of rejected love doesn’t do good to a soul.. he wanted to blame her for leaving him in the dark..leaving him when he needed her the most..but then if she stayed would it mean she loved him too….
“Anjali, I knew what you did was the right thing, it was my love that came in the way of our friendship…I was the one who spoiled it… just forgive me…” Raghav didn’t know where these words came from..but he knew his heart was clear… he just didn’t feel bad anymore…
“Anjali… you didn’t love me and you were clear about it.. I was the one smitten by the bug.. and I should be the one who is sorry not you”
“Rag’s just forgive me for not being there for you… I hope I could have been a better friend… you have been more than a friend to me….you were my support system…and now when im back in my zone..happy and starting a new life..i feel that I have somewhere squashed you….who meant a lot to me..”
“Anjali..thats enough for me…that you consider me as your friend..even after all this… I always thought you would love me…I had a small hope that you would love me back…realize that we are meant to be.. but you have found your love.. and I still am in love with you” Raghav felt warm tears roll down his cheeks…just then Priya came in from the connecting room..she felt startled to see Raghav cry but she was in a hurry she just pulled Anjali by her arm and into the next room shutting the door behind….
Raghav stood there alone in the room..with tears rolling down…sometimes the heart never stops loving..he hoped…he had not said anything that would ruin Anju’s life..her wedding..he felt pathetic about himself.. His phone rang. It was Ajay “ Hey Rags, where are you? We are searching for you? Come to the pastry counter.its yumm”. Ajay managed to cut the phone and open the door and into the elevator down to the wedding hall…he seemed to be in a zone of his own..he felt numbness in his hands,feet and brain..it was a pain that was numbing him…he couldn’t hear anything..He sat with his friends at a table and they were watching the bride and groom get ready for the ceremonial wedding around the fire. Raghav couldn’t take it anymore as soon as he saw Anjali getting in and sitting beside the groom, he got up and walked outside to the porch… where it was still raining… his head was ringing with his own words “Im still in love with you” He had tears in his eyes..thinking about the rainy day 3 years back when under the tree he had first professed his love to anju.. and since then ..he had tried hard not to think of this… he stood in the middle of the hotel front road and looked up in to the pouring sky..hoping that the rain could again wash his tears his pain.. his eyes were shut..
Just then he felt a soft hand on his shoulder, his eyes were still closed as he was sobbing to the sky, he turned to find her standing there in her peacock blue dress… Priya took his hand and bought him inside the shade of the hotel porch.. She took his hand and squeezed it, then she opened his palm and put a folded piece of paper in it. “ She wanted to talk something more, but she had to leave, so she wrote it down before she came down to the phera’s. she want you to read this.” Raghav opened the letter and read it “ Dear Rags, Im sorry to be of so much cause of pain, but I can’t love you, I have not learnt to love after my first heartbreak. Thanks to you, I was sane and you were there to help me out of the most wonderful time, when you proposed to me, I told you that I was still not over my first love… and you accepted and stayed a friend..it was I who moved away..When I moved to Chennai I used to miss you but didn’t call you knowing that you would get hopes on our love… I still hadn’t moved on to love anyone else.. and then when I had left hope and left it on time to heal things.. I got a call from Param, He had got through his college and was now remembering me..but he said he got some signals of fate that led him to call me..and he believed that this relationship was destined by God and he had been foolish to think he career would get affected ..if he reciprocated with me..now he is matured and understands that he couldn’t live without me.. Param met me in Chennai and we fell in love all over again…. He went ahead and finished his ambition and we are now marrying.. I was lucky that I waited and found my first love, and you in turn will lose yours.. am I selfish in ditching a friend who loved me and am I taking the right decision to love someone I loved and who im sure will keep me happy and love me more.. I don’t know.. but im glad I found love and hope you find yours soon too.. by the way Paramjeet’s only called “Sunny” by his family..for me he is always my Param. Wish you all the luck and happiness in life”.
Raghav looked up with his red eyes to Priya who he realized had not left his hand. “ She is marrying Param?” he asked Priya and they both smiled with a teary eyed twinkle. “ Priya, does she know about the messages and emails and your involvement in this?”
“ No, Raghav, you remember I had promised I wont tell anyone.”
“But Priya, Param does love her doesn’t he?” “ Ya, that’s why he;s marrying her. Sometimes we are just means to a bigger goal and we don’t realize it”
Raghav felt happy for Anjali and forgot all his pain aside.. He was ready to move on… A rainy day had started this and a rainy day has ended their story. There is no happiness than to see your loved one find their love..that was the power of love..it makes you selfless and closer to yourself.