Getting off my car, at the airport on a rainy July afternoon I was in a very jubilant mood, in complete contrast to the weather. But that is what rains did to me, a pluviophile.
I was amongst the youngest vice presidents at an FMCG conglomerate. I was still single at 35 and had worked hard to achieve everything I had. I was heading to Bangalore for a quarterly review meeting and was looking forward to a quick check-in and some reading on the flight.
And as I entered the airport gates and in one check-in queue I saw Neha. I could have recognised her in a crowd of hundreds. Her tall slender body, tanned complexion, smooth skin, the long brown hair, her supple ways and the hunched way she generally stood. My heart skipped a beat and then it started to race. It seemed my heart would fall out of my chest. This was the best way serendipity could strike. Suddenly the images of our past came rushing back- seeing her the first day in college, being friends, the long chats, the evenings and the passionate love making. Effortlessly my legs started to move towards her and reality struck- but she is married. I took a step back and turned around and made way to my check – in counter.
I got my boarding pass and realized I had another 30 minutes before I could board the plane. I sat in the business lounge and my thoughts veered back to Neha. I still remembered her first day in college. I was in my third and final year of under graduate and she had taken admission to the first year of the course. A bashful demeanor and seeking acceptance in the city college. She was surrounded by some seniors, some of the boys from my class, who wanted to pick on her and have some fun. Her mien changed to panic and she looked petrified. I suddenly had the protective urge for her and ran to intervene. I confronted the boys to let go off her and she sensed an opportunity and escaped. The next few days we just exchanged glances and half a smile. I got busy in my final year preparation and she in her new course.
Finally we spoke a few weeks later, in the library. I was sitting there completing some assignments, and she just came and sat across me. She introduced herself and she started to talk. And she went on and on about herself. Seeing her bashful demeanor one would wonder if she could talk as much. Though she confessed, she did not like to talk much to strangers, but after the incident with the seniors and seeing me around she felt a connect with me and was comfortable talking to me. And in the next forty five minutes I got to know – she was from outside the city, staying in the hostel, conservative parents and had to do a lot of convincing to get here, loved movies, liked to read and was looking to make new friends.
Slowly we started spending time together – on campus and off campus. We were now spending all our weekends together. We also had found a secret entrance to the college terrace and would spend our evenings there – talking ambitions, life, travails, trivia, movies, books everything. On one such soothing evening, I kissed Neha. Her soft wet lips felt heavenly. She was shocked, to say the least and she ran away from there. I was worried, that was the last I saw of her. And had ruined my friendship with Neha, forever. But the next day she met me at the terrace again. She confessed how awkward it felt and she had never been kissed like this before. She went on to share her childhood experience of abuse at the hands of a tuition teacher and since then, how she found most men repulsive. Also the reason for her extreme panic on the first day at college. And with me she felt comfort and protected. She told me how she spent the whole of last night thinking of us and where it would lead. But she trusted me and wanted to take this relation forward. Thus began our love story.
Long walks, endless conversations, binge eating, shopping sprees and late night studying sessions were now a norm. The year ended and I enrolled for a two year post-graduate program, with the same college. I then rented an apartment close to the college and Neha moved-in with me.
My thoughts were disturbed by the announcement to board the flight. I picked my laptop bag and my duffel bag and walked to my boarding gate. And my heart started to race again. I saw Neha waiting at one of the gates to board. Our eyes met and her face lit up. I just wanted to rush and give her a tight hug. She instinctively got up, but she was anchored by reality. She looked besides, as if to gesture me to look at a young girl sitting there. Who, undoubtedly had to be her daughter- same features, same skin and long brown hair. I gave a reassuring smile and continued to walk. She too gave a helpless sigh and sank back into her seat. I was almost in tears, just thinking of what could have been.
The two years of our living together were by far the most amazing time of my life. I had never felt so alive, so satiated, so loved. Our mornings, evenings and nights were always filled with laughter and love. Post-its stuck around the house were our favourite way to talk. Love messages written with lip-sticks on mirrors would brighten any day. Cooking together was what we both looked forward to. Sleeping curled into each other is what dreams are made of. Passionate love making stirred emotions in me, that I was unaware of. Studying together and helping each other to reach out for their dreams was like a personal ambition. Time was flying past us very fast and the two years were coming to end soon
I was now comfortably seated and was waiting for the plane to take off. The rain was now just a drizzle and sun was peeping from behind the clouds.
Just as our final semester exams were nearing, the uncomfortable question of ‘what next?’ was hovering between us. The elephant in the room, we both were ignoring to acknowledge. I was prepared to do anything to be with Neha. Fight prejudice, fight with society, take on the world, and even settle abroad, if Neha agreed. But we both knew Neha’s parents would never accept Neha’s relations. Neha did not have the courage to fight the expectations and come out openly about us. She was too worried of the repercussions of her decisions on her siblings and her family. The law, the society and prejudice we all live in. After our exams we bid adieu and she went back to her parent’s home and later through some common friends got to know of her marriage to a businessman. And I got engrossed in my work and career.
As the plane took off from the runway I saw a rainbow and realized some enthusiastic flyers clicking pictures and in awe of the beauty. And thought of the irony of how all the colors make the rainbow so beautiful but we can’t accept all forms of love that would make our world so beautiful…!!!
Just then, the air hostess arrived with the menu and asked me – “Madam Veg or Non Veg for dinner?”