Rishi had got the plaster off the last month. Aayat used to meet him every alternate day. It was one of those evenings when she came to Zuly’s house that Zuly’s mother had a guest. It was Jaya Aunty, their former acquaintances who shifted their house around 3 years ago to Agra. Aayat greeted them and went inside Zuly’s room. Zuly was typing something on her phone and when she saw Aayat, she immediately closed her phone and kept it beneath her pillow.
“What happened Zuly madam ?? Why so nervous ?” Aayat said to Zuly who was for some reasons looking distressed.
“Hey Hi! No nothing as such. Was just talking to a friend.” She replied subsiding her question.
They were together that evening for a movie. They had been planning to watch a movie together from the last month but given their hectic schedule, they didn’t get the time to actually meet up casually. The only time they would see each other was when they go for classes. During the classes too, they couldn’t talk much. For some reasons, Zuly had been avoiding Aayat since morning saying that she was not well and they should postpone their movie plan. But Aayat insisted on telling her that watching a movie doesn’t require any physical efforts. They just have to lie down and watch it. Despite Zuly’s reluctance, they finally made the plan.
“Aashiqui 2 or Ranjhanaa ?” Zuly asked as she switched on her laptop.
“Ranjhanaaaaaaaa !! Of course.” She replied in a cheerful tone. Ranjhanaa was a very special movie for Aayat. It was only after watching this movie that Rishi drunk dialled her from Agra, where he was gone to visit his relatives. It was more special as it talked about green-saffron communion. Ever since he came back, there has been a shift in his behaviour which was very evident to Aayat. However, she chose to ignore it.
Minutes later Zuly plugged in the movie and they both sat in silence watching it. For Aayat, the character Kundan was actually Rishi. She would always imagine Rishi in his place whenever she watches that movie.
It was between the scene when Kundan madly ran a scooter inside Zoya’s house on her wedding day when someone knocked the door outside. She paused the movie and got up to unbolt the door.
As she opened the door she saw a girl standing right in front of her. She was a girl of Zuly’s age and it appeared like she knew Zuly from a long time. This is because as soon as she saw Zuly, she hugged her very tightly. Strangely, Zuly was taken aback. For a second she was puzzled as if she did not expect that girl to be there.
Minutes later, the girl sat between Aayat and Zuly.
“Aayat, she is Saanvi Singh. She was our old family friend. They got shifted to Agra a few years ago. Jaya Aunty you saw outside, she’s her daughter.” Aayat noticed Zuly’s low tone while she was introducing Saanvi to her.
“And Saanvi, she’s Aayat. Aayat Shaikh. My best friend.” Aayat gazed at Saanvi and gave her a pleasant smile.
There was a sudden chill in the room. Something was definitely not right. Aayat felt the difference in the air before and after Saanvi came into the room. Yet, she did not project it out. Saanvi’s family shifted to Agra 3 years ago. They lived in the same locality before and had known Zuly and Rishi from quite a long time now.
After a while, Aayat started making Saanvi comfortable.
“So Saanvi, what do you do?” Aayat asked trying to break the ice.
“I’m doing my 12th as of now,” Saanvi replied tersely.
“Oh, that’s good. Any plans after this?” Aayat said, still trying to keep up the conversation.
“I haven’t thought about it but I will once I am done with my exams.” Saanvi’s replies were crisp as usual. It appeared as if she did not want to talk to an unknown girl. However, she really was in a mood to talk to Zuly, alone. Having Aayat in the same room was not helping her.
“When will you be free Zuly ?” Saanvi asked Zuly, completely ignoring Aayat on her face.
Aayat realised it late and felt like it was her cue to leave.
Zuly did not stop her either like usually she does. It felt a little odd for Aayat to be in that situation. Had she knew this before that Zuly had to meet her friend, she wouldn’t have forced her for the movie today. Passing them a courteous smile, she grabbed her bag and got up to leave.
“I’ll see you later Zuly. Mumma is calling actually. I’ll leave now”. The words didn’t come naturally, indeed she had to make them sound normal to avoid any smallest bit of awkwardness.
“Okay. I’ll see you at the class tomorrow. Bye.” Zuly said, sounding equally awkward but pretending to not be awkward at all. She didn’t even get up to hug Aayat like she always did. In fact she did not even wave her bye. She sat there with Saanvi, waiting for Aayat to leave.
Aayat closed the door behind while she left. She was so lost that she couldn’t even hear the sound behind her.
The same evening while Saanvi and Zuly were going out for a walk, they crossed Rishi’s apartment.
“You know Zuly when we lived here, I and Rishi used to meet every day for an evening walk. It became a routine that we followed so unknowingly. Ever since we have got shifted to Agra, I don’t go out that often. In fact, I refrain from evening walks.” Saanvi said, staring into oblivion.
“I understand,” Zuly said and gave her a thoughtful smile.
“By the way, have you met Rishi? You must see him. He would be very happy to see you here”. She added.
“No, I haven’t. But he came to Agra a few days back. I was very happy to see him. I did not expect it actually. I called him on his bday and in about a week he landed up in Agra.” Saanvi said, looking at Zuly.
“You both should meet and talk. I mean it would be great isn’t it.” Zuly said.
“Yaa! I have called Rishi to meet me at the said place. We used to go there every day after a walk. I am so glad I’ll be visiting it again. With Rishi.” The smile on her face reflected a lot.
While she said this, she saw a dark figure walking towards them. His face wasn’t clearly visible initially, but as he walked under the street lamp, Saanvi grinned to see the one she was planning to meet the same evening.
Things were going to change. Everything fell silent. More questions would be there, more answers would be made, a lot of interpretations with two different mindsets. It was not going to be so easy this time. It was going to put them in a quest they had no clue about. Perhaps, they were prepared for it.
On the other hand, sat in the manicured backyard near the sapling she planted a few months ago, Aayat was unaware of the storm that was coming her way. She sipped small gulps of tea from her black mug and stared into the darkness above. There are numerous shades of the night sky. From being romantic and warm to being the voice of solitude, it leaves the person into a space which is already into the depths of his heart. The night wasn’t romantic and neither was it warm. The air crossing her face was cold and the time was wrong.
Saanvi walked with Rishi the same way she used to walk with him 3 years ago. She would always walk on the left side of Rishi in order to hold his left hand and give him her right hand. The only difference in the walk that night was that she was not bold enough to hold his hand now. In fact, she found it a bit awkward initially to even be there with him at that hour. Rishi had always been the one who is expressionless. Even Saanvi could not read his face. As a matter of fact, she did not even try to. In fact, she was more consumed in her thoughts to finally reach there and talk about the “important decision” for which she came to Delhi.
From a distance, Saanvi could smell the awesome tea of Radheshyam’s tea stall. It was the place she would visit with Rishi every day when she lived there.
“I missed this tea.” She said, “I missed you too Rishi”. She continued staring into his dark almond eyes. There was a bleak smile on his face, for he could only manage that.
“Really! I am sure you missed the tea more”. He replied in a sarcastic tone. She gifted him the sarcasm when she left 3 years ago. Since then, he had been in a habit of throwing sarcasm to the people around him.
“Rishi! Can we please talk normally? Even when you came to meet me in Agra, we couldn’t talk. Mom was always around. You know how it was. Now that we are here, I don’t want to waste this time. Can we please talk ?” She said while looking at Rishi with hopeful eyes.
“Tell me, have you not missed me Rishi? Have you not cried for me? Didn’t you miss me Rishi? I missed you Every single day. I know it was me who left, but if you were in pain, I was in pain too. I wasn’t very happy leaving you Rishi. I had reasons to leave. I hope you understand.”
She continued staring into his face which he was keeping away from her purposely. He refused to make any eye contact with her.
“I always did Saanvi and you know that. But do you realise what have you done with me? Do you have any idea what I had been through? I know you had reasons to leave but didn’t I deserve to know them? Don’t you think you should have told me that when you were deciding to leave? Didn’t I deserve to know all of that? Do you even realise what have you done? And yes, I came to Agra, to meet you. But these were the only questions I came there with because when you called on my birthday, I felt since you have finally learnt to be courteous, you should have been courteous enough to tell me the reasons today, on your own. And hence I came to Agra. There’s nothing that I feel for you today Saanvi. You have damaged me completely and in a way that I can never be healed. I don’t know what do you want from me because today, surely I can’t give you anything.”
“Done? Can I say something now?” She said, “I left without meeting you or let alone telling you anything but what would have I told you? Was there anything that I could have said which would make this separation easy for you? I thought you’ll understand with time. I didn’t know you were holding all this against me!”
“I am holding this against you? Saanvi are you out of your mind? You left me!! Changed the city, changed everything and you expect me to understand. There could have been better ways to say goodbye Saanvi. You know what I felt? I felt as if I hold no value in your life. As if my presence in your life is so tiny that you can blow me away from your mind overnight. I felt you had no feelings for me, you were just passing time. The city changed, boyfriend changed. No Saanvi, it doesn’t work like this.”
“What do you mean boyfriend changed? Don’t you dare say this Rishi! Yes, I admit my mistake and I agree I should have met you but that doesn’t mean you have got the license to degrade me. I have changed the city, agreed but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I would be with another guy today. Had I been with some other guy, I won’t be standing here with you. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
Their conversation heated up and they realised it late. Radheshyam looked at them but when Rishi caught him watching the two of them argue, Radheshyam pretended to look in the other direction.
“Saanvi, tell me one thing. We both know you don’t have any explanations and your reasons are vague. What do you want from me now?”
“I want to be back with you Rishi. I’ll be coming back to Delhi in about a year for CAT preparation. I’ll do my graduation from Delhi University. I talked to Mom and Dad about it and they agreed. This time I came to Delhi just to tell you this. I thought I would surprise you! You know Rishi, Mom and Dad will never accept our relationship. You know how my dad is. If I’ll tell him about the boy I love, he will kill me and you both. It’s against his social status. He cannot bear his daughter falling in love. But you know what! I don’t care. All I want is to be with you Rishi. I have lived my part of the separation and I know I can’t live without you. Can’t we be back, please? Let these questions of acceptance by each other’s family be a misery of future. Let’s not kill our present with the apprehensions of future. I have learnt it late Rishi and now that I have, I don’t want to waste another second. Can you please understand Rishi? Can we please be like before? Please!”
Rishi saw her in disbelief. Was this some kind of a joke which life was playing with him? He had no clue as to what he should say. On one side, there was a girl who he loved with all his heart a few years ago and who was coming to Delhi only to be with him. And on the other side, there was another girl he just fell in love with. He couldn’t swing either way. He cannot play with the lives of these two and had to choose one howsoever. Saanvi’s return into Rishi’s life was very unexpected. A few months back, there was no sign of her and hence his life was smooth. At least it appeared so. But now when Saanvi is back, he did not know what should he do. He loved Saanvi at one point of time and it was true he still had feelings for her in one corner of his heart that he never touched again. He knew that even Aayat could never touch that corner for him. He remembers for how long he had kept himself in self-sabotage after Saanvi left. He remembers that it was Aayat who gave him the love which he always wanted. That unconditional unasked love, the love that could jump boundaries for him. A girl that can do anything for him without a single line on her forehead. He was unable to make sense of the events that were happening to him lately. This time, he gazed at her intently. His conscience will never let him choose Saanvi over Aayat. It was unethical and unfair to the girl who had given him everything. Everything. It would be so immoral for Rishi to chose Saanvi. But then Love and Morals can’t stay in one room. One needs to leave if the other wants to stay.
The sky was seamlessly confusing. Even it had no answers. Rishi was stuck between his head and heart. His heart wanted to give Saanvi another chance, but his mind overpowered him every time he thought about it deeply.
He sat there on one of the benches. Saanvi sat beside him and held his hand. This time, with the small conviction as she used to back then. He wanted to say so much, but he stopped short of words. In his mind, he went too low. The girl he loved 3 years ago still loved him and haven’t been with anyone during that time. On the other hand, Rishi just gave her place to some other girl. How could he tell Saanvi about Aayat? What would she think of him? Rishi could see the simmering tea in the saucepan placed right in front of Radheshyam. This place reminded him of Aayat and the time they spent here together. He proposed Aayat here before the tea only. Everything about this place now belonged to Aayat except for his heart which was still stuck in Saanvi. He wasn’t over Saanvi yet. Giving a commitment to Aayat was a mistake. He shouldn’t have, he thought. However, this time, his mind won the battle.
“Saanvi, I cannot do this. Things are not the same. Everything has changed. I don’t know what will you think of me, but my decision won’t change. I can’t do this Saanvi. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
As soon as he said this, he landed up staring into the far end of the road. He hid the lone drop of tear from the corner of his eye. He wiped it even before it escaped out.
“Rishi? But why? Why can’t we be together? What happened Rishi. It was so perfect. I mean why? Why are you doing this ?” Saanvi landed up with tears. Rishi just snatched the little ray of hope from her.
“Saanvi, please. I can’t handle these tears you know that. There’s nothing I can do for you and there’s nothing that can change my decision. It is final. I’m sorry if I have hurt you. Please understand.”
He said continuing to look away from her.
“There are things that we need to do Saanvi. They don’t have reasons behind them. Only decisions, that we have to accept sooner or later.” He said, pretending to be unaffected by her tears. Deep down, he knew he lived a thousand deaths at that moment.
It was only a week before that, Aayat went for Eid shopping with her mom. Actually, they would shop for Eid even before Ramadan starts to avoid last minute chaos. While Aayat’s mom believed in saving the last minute rush, Aayat felt the thrill lies only in shopping for Eid on the last day. Aayat was very excited for Ramadan. It is the month in which Muslims fast for 29 or 30 days depending on the occurrence of the crescent moon. Ramadan is the sacred month for Muslims. If a person would fast and pray in this month, it is said that the prayers reach straight to Allah and he fulfils it very often. The excitement was visible as the markets were all decorated, more fruit vendors could be seen and dates were being sold on every other shop. Ramadan becomes a festive season for the whole month. Not only the Muslims, but everyone enjoys it. That’s the best part about festivals. The festive lights and ambience connect people to each other. Whether it’s Diwali, or Holi or Christmas or any other festival for that matter, but the happiness these festivals bring into your lives is cherishable. And it is the best thing about India. You believe in one religion yet can enjoy the happiness and liveliness of all the festivals. Aayat, being a religious girl loved to fast. She would fast for the whole month and pray with all her heart. It was her belief that she was the closest to Allah as He always answers her prayers in some way or the other. This time, being Rishi into her life, she had a lot to ask for and hence had a lot to pray about.
Rishi was unaware of these little joys which Aayat felt these days. He was consumed with a lot of things Aayat didn’t have a clue about. Ever since Saanvi left for Agra, Rishi is again’ left with a big void. This time it was even bigger than the last time. The last time she left, he still had reasons to cry, this time he felt he should not even cry as he chose Aayat over Saanvi. And he did it willingly. Rishi had been ineloquent all his life and now that he chose Aayat over Saanvi, it was as If he lost his remaining urge to speak too. When he dropped Saanvi back that evening, he didn’t say anything. He politely dropped her back and came back home with a part of his heart killed permanently.
Aayat noticed Rishi’s sad eyes and deep silence but she didn’t say anything. Although she tried talking to him half of the times Rishi did not answer her phone calls and when he did, he pretended to be busy. Moreover, since now it’s Ramadan, she thought she’d pray to Allah for all the ill happenings in Rishi’s life. It was the first time she did not have prayers for herself but for him.
It was Chaand Raat and after watching the crescent moon from her terrace, she covered her head with a dupatta and prayed for Rishi’s well being. She prayed with all her heart. It is said that if you pray after looking at the moon of Ramadan or Eid-ul-Fitr, the prayers are definitely going to be answered. She believed it and the only name that escaped her lips was Rishi. This Ramadan was going to be really special for her.
Parallely, at the same time, Rishi sat at Radheshyam’s tea stall. It was his 4th cigarette. Staring into the vast sky ahead of him, he did not know whether he should cry for losing Saanvi once again or should be in peace for having a loving girl by his side who’s never going to leave him. It had been a while since Saanvi left, but his conversations with Aayat grew terser. His love for Aayat was being put under the dustheap. He was only left with the compunction Saanvi left him with.
He lit cigarettes after cigarettes but it did not feel any better even after the tenth cigarette. He stared into the darkness with no peace at all. This test of time would snatch the happiness of at least one of the three of them. Aayat, Saanvi or Rishi. One of them would definitely suffer. It was the law of the land that triangles do not exist for very long. This time, Rishi chose himself to be in this pain but it was the only time which was going to decide who will suffer finally in the story.
“Zindgi ki bohot saari khushiyan aapko Khairaat mein milti hain. Wo khushiyan Jin par aapka koi haq nahi hota. Wo khushiyan jo aapke hisse mein kabhi likhi hi nahi gayin … Bas sirf kuch arse ke liye aapko de di jaati hain. Shayad sirf aapka Dil behlaane ke liye. Aur phir ek waqt Aisa aata hai jab wo khushiyan apna asli haqdaar Dhoond hi leti hain. Zindgi ke bohot saare rishte Mehez kuch waqt ke liye hi bante hain, aur wo rishte inhi Khairaat ki khushiyon ke Ghulaam hote hain. Insaan jab in Khushiyon se apna ghar Bana leta hai , to us ghar ka tootna laazmi ho jata hai …”Aur phir kuch baaqi nahi rehta.”