I grabbed the phone from Varun’s hands before he could react. Holding it tightly, I stared at the picture, feeling envy growing within me.
“How the hell – so it’s true, huh?” I said, trying to sound casual.
Varun’s face turned a shade red as he tried not to blush.
I looked at the photo again and let out a low whistle. She was beautiful. It was a picture of a girl in her early twenties, who was facing slightly off camera, with her hand in the air as she perhaps tried to stop the photo from being taken. She had fair, creamish complexion, and her thin, red lips curved upwards, causing his cheeks to swell lightly. Combined with the slight reflection of her thin long nose, she looked almost angelic. Serene, I thought.
“Show me, show me!” Preeti said, crawling across the mattresses. She held a hand out for the mobile.
“Wow, she looks good!” she squealed, quickly huddling with Teena and Aishwarya. The three of them shared the apartment, but that didn’t mean much since dozens of guys and girls walked in and out of the place at all times of the day. One of the perks of staying in Abode Valley, and studying in SRM.
I generally wished I had dropped economics and instead chose engineering. Physics would have been a whole lot more bearable if I’d been in such jovial company. But I compensated by visiting in the weekends.
“So who is she?” Teena asked teasingly, handing back the mobile. By now Varun had turned a deeper shade of red. He looked at four people waiting expectantly.
“Her name is,” he started hesitantly. Just then the door flew open and Kevin entered, making a beeline for Aishwarya.
“Yes!” he exulted as he flopped onto the mattress next to her. The two of them were in a semiserious relationship, which meant he tried to sit as close to her as possible while she quietly admired his virtues. Imaginary or otherwise.
“I whooped Harish’s ass at Fifa,” he announced proudly as Harish trudged into the room looking annoyed. I glanced at Varun; his shyness had been replaced by discomfort. He never liked the two of them. Neither did I.
“Arey, you and your stupid football game, chod na!” Teena cried, waving her hand dismissively. She turned toward Varun and asked curiously.
“So tell us, what’s the lucky girl’s name?”
“Girl?” Kevin asked loudly, looking around for an explanation. “Shoo,” Aishwarya said gently, pushing his shoulder. “Varun is going out with a girl.”
“Ah, Varun, lucky dog!” Kevin cried, leaning forward to slap Varun on his shoulder. Varun flinched as he shut his eyes momentarily. He wished the game of Fifa hadn’t stopped.
“So, tell us. What’s her name?” Kevin asked loudly.
I watched Varun hesitate, gazing downwards. “Her name is – ” he began shyly. “Her name is Parisa.”
“Paris?” Harish asked in excitement.
Varun shook his head. “Parisa.”
“What kind of name is Parisa?” Kevin cried. He looked around for support, but the three girls were sympathetic. “It’s not such an uncommon name,” Preeti said defensively.
“Alright, alright, you’re right. Fine, fine, so tell us about this Parisa.”
“Wait a minute, what’s her last name?” Harish asked.
Varun wished he didn’t have to reply. “Singh.”
Kevin laughed out loud. “Are you serious? Her name is Parisa Sin –” He stopped upon seeing the expression of Teena. “Fine, fine, just tell the story, so how did you meet her?”
Varun looked around the room, trying to decide whether he should narrate the whole story. We coaxed him till he became interested.
“Fine, I’ll narrate the whole story, but don’t interrupt.”
Narrated by Varun
It was the first culturals I’d ever attended in my life, and I was understandably excited, though Mathew and Joseph tried their best to dampen my enthusiasm with cynicism. The Debate Fest organized by St. Stephens College had, in recent years atleast, fallen well below expectations. Disorganized schedules, uncomfortable accomodations, awkward hosting and so on had influenced my college’s decision to not send a large contingent. From SRM, it would be just the three of us.
However, all worries I had about the culturals vanished on the first day, when we ventured into one of the canteens, wondering where we were supposed to report. The three of us were huddled together at a table, deep in discussion in the empty canteen, when two girls walked towards us. We looked up, and I can still remember the double take I did. I looked up, saw the first girl, moved my gaze sideways, registered the second girl’s face, looked down, and almost immediately looked up.
To say she was beautiful would be too much of a cliché. She was adorable. And I suspected that was down to her haircut. It must have been. Some devilishly skilled hairstylist had conjured the best possible hairstyle to lure an innocent man. The girl had silky hair that reached till her shoulders, and there was a curved cut on her forehead that caused a few strands to fall, ever so casually it seemed, across her left eye. It seemed like her hair was shyly sheltering her gaze from me. And when she spoke, a thin, fair, slender finger pushed the strands to the side, an action that she would repeat over the next three days. An action I gladly witnessed over and over again.
Parisa Singh. She had the build of a Punjabi girl, that was certain. She was talk, and slightly more than slender. The kind of girl who ate well and didn’t have to do anything to maintain a figure. Dressed in a blue salwar and white tights, she wore a pleasant smile. She had a slightly angular face, with her cheeks slightly fleshy in a good way. Her nose was a little long and slender. It was the perfect way to accelerate my heartbeat. Like a synchronized show, her eyes twinkled whenever she smiled, just as her cheeks puffed up due to her lips curving upwards. The glint of genuine joy that seemed to be present in her eyes made me stare at her. Until Mathew hit me in the ribs and told me to control myself.
But I couldn’t. I had a massive crush on this girl. And all within ten minutes of the culturals starting.
As though Cupid had conspired for it all along, Parisa was our hospitality coordinator, in charge of playing the role of the good host. She made sure we got proper accommodation, food and was even gracious enough to accompany us to a pub for a few drinks.
Since Mathew and Joseph had been instructed to back off, they gladly watched as I began chatting with Parisa. Throughout the day, we would exchange jokes, with my heart skipping a beat whenever she laughed. She made me feel smart, witty and most important of all, alive. I was falling hard, and I knew it wasn’t the wisest thing to do.
Mathew finally worded my doubts. “So what happens when you go back to Chennai?” he asked on the second night, once we were back in our room.
“I don’t know,” I said quietly, focusing on folding my clothes. Mathew adopted his nagging, I-told-you-so tone and continued. “Are you going to go out with her?”
“Of course not!” I shot back, thankful that they couldn’t hear my heart scream yes.
“He cant go out with her,” Joseph, the more laid back and carefree fellow said.
“Why not?” I asked defensively, feeling offended.
“Because she is a year older than you, dude,” he said.
It felt like I’d just been slapped. No way, I thought. She was my height, she understood my jokes. How could she be elder than me?
“She’s in her fourth year. One of the few fourth years allowed to participate in the fest. Rest all are third years.”
I rallied from the set back. “So what? It’s 2013, not 1920. There’s no problem in going out with a guy who is younger than you.”
Turns out there is. She wasn’t willing to consider me as anything more than a close friend. Of course, I didn’t figure that out until two months later, when countless Whatsapp messages had been exchanged. The refrain, “Oh Varun, why couldn’t you be a year older,” was repeated until I got the message. It was one of the gloomiest days I had in a long time.
“That sucks man,” I said sympathetically, patting Varun’s shoulder. “I mean, I see that sort of thing happening around campus all the time. Right?” I looked towards the girls for support.
“Totally,” Teena said, nodding her head.
“Yeah, it’s not fair that you cant go out with a girl just because you were born a year after her,” Aishwarya said sympathetically.
Varun looked at us and grinned. “The story isn’t over yet. I told you guys not to interrupt, didn’t I?”
I was chatting with Parisa late one night, when I casually mentioned that I would have to go to my parents place in Chandigarh for the vacations, in approximately two weeks time.
‘How long is your vacation?’ she typed.
‘About one and half months. Will be with parents full time L’
There was a pause. And then Parisa is typing… flashed at the top of the screen. A few moments later a message appeared.
‘Can u stay away from them for a weekend? U cud come and stay with me in my apartment J’
Mathew entered the room a few minutes later, looking annoyed. “Dude, what the fuck is going on. The whole house is shaking!”
I didn’t care. I continued jumping around in joy.
“So you’re actually going to slip off to Delhi on your own and then go to Chandigarh without your parents finding out?” Joseph asked, trying not to sound skeptical.
“Yup. I’ve booked the tickets already, so save your breath.”
Two nights later, I lay in bed, typing away furiously. Almost two hours had passed by, but Parisa and I were in the middle of a serious conversation.
“I hate men!” she said. I thought she was joking, and so commented jovially.
But the pause in her reply made me realize she wasn’t kidding. “What do you mean?” I asked with concern.
And slowly, one line after the other, she narrated the story of her last boyfriend, and how their relationship had soured after starting off brightly. What she told me made me understand her earlier comment. She had every reason to hate men after what she’d gone through. All the shortcomings we men possessed had been experienced first hand by Parisa. It had left her slightly scarred, and scared enough to keep a distance from any further relationships.
At 3 in the morning, she finally left the chat. I rubbed my eyes and placed the mobile on the table next to the bed. Before I drifted off to sleep, a thought had fully formed in my mind.
I would do whatever it takes to change her mind. Whatever was necessary to erase those scars…
The next day, Mathew and Joseph heard loud, soothing music playing in my room. They were in the middle of a conversation when they entered. Upon seeing me, both of them stopped in their tracks. Mathew opened his mouth to say something but Joseph held up a hand.
“It’s your room, your life buddy,” he said, suppressing a smile. Giving me one last look, the two of them left.
The day finally arrived. I boarded the train to Delhi and reached on Friday evening. Parisa was at the railway station, waving enthusiastically as she spotted me. She gave me a brief hug that lasted much longer in my mind, and the two of us caught a cab.
It’s amazing how there are some people with whom you can have a conversation for the entire day, even though you hardly know them. The waiter at the bar would have sworn that the two of us were childhood friends. He might have suspected that I had a massive crush on her. Either ways, he quietly served our drinks and watched us make merry.
We headed back to her apartment in the evening, and I agreed to Parisa’s suggestion that we go watch a movie.
“I’ll just take a bath and put on something better,” she said, heading to her room.
“Hey, one second,” I said, causing her to turn back. “Which movie did you want to see?”
“Anyone, I don’t have anything in particular,” she said with a smile.
Excellent, I thought. It was perfect. But now came the crucial part. I watched as she closed the door, and waited to hear it being bolted. Immediately, I sprung into action. I picked up my bag, unzipped it, and dumped the contents onto the table. Then, with swiftness I began placing the candles all around the hall. There was a dining table, and I concentrated on putting eight candles in the centre of it. I put two more on top of the nearby fridge, and four on the side table at the opposite end of the hall, next to the sofas. The middle space was empty, and I wanted it that way.
Once I lit all the candles, I switched off the lights.
It was brilliant. Perhaps by sheer accident, but the light from the candles around the empty space in the hall bathed it in a yellowish glow. And the candles were scented. Perfect!
I took out the iPod and its dock. Plugged it in and selected the song. Pocketing the remote, I paused to catch my breath. This would be fine, I told myself. It will work out well enough.
Just then I heard the door being unbolted. There are moments in life that play out in slow motion, as though God knew you would want to savour it. Everything slowed down for me as the door slowly swung open, and Parisa stepped into the hall.
She was dressed in a royal blue top and long, flowing black skirt. Her hair was left open, and nestled against her shoulders comfortably. She was breathtaking.
“What the –” she said, looking around in surprise. I had to will myself to move forward. Pressing the remote button, I neared her as the music started playing.
“Parisa, there’s something I’ve been thinking about. Life sucks. You know what I mean?”
I paused, realizing I was too nervous to speak. It felt like I was blanking out as I stared at her surprised face. I could feel my palms begin to sweat as small beads formed on my forehead. She waited, wondering what I was about to say. I closed my eyes, begging myself not to flounder. I thought of the first time I’d seen her. I thought of the chat we’d had that night. It all came back.
I looked up, stepped forward and held her hand lightly. Looking deep into her eyes, I spoke, not knowing what I was saying till my heart had instructed my tongue to utter it.
“Life sucks. I mean the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, right? The good never get what they should, the bad get whatever they want. It’s fucked up. And there’s nothing I can do to change all of that. It’s too big a problem. But you know what, Parisa? That night, when we chatted, I saw a problem that I could fix. It was a serious problem, mind you, but a problem that shouldn’t have existed in the first place. A beautiful girl, a gem of a person, had been emotionally damaged due to some jerk of an ex-boyfriend. And I thought to myself. How can a girl like this cry alone at night, when so many idiots roam the streets with girls in their arms? That’s not right, is it? No, it’s not. That’s why I’ve done this. I just wanted to show you, you deserve so much more. You deserve to be treated like a princess. Like a lady. With grace and love and kindness. So would you agree, Parisa, to a dance?”
She was taken aback, but I always knew she was the kind of person who would humor me for a thing like this. She stepped forward, and I moved back. I held her left hand in my palm, and placed my right hand on her hips.
Gently, I moved closer until the two of us were touching each other, our eyes locked. Smiling, I whispered, “I love you, Parisa.”
And then we danced. As her favorite song played in the background, we glided across the room, swaying in perfect harmony. At first she was nervous, not wanting to spoil anything by tripping. But once she felt my hand resting on her back, she began to ease. Her body relaxed, and she leaned forward, allowing me to guide her.
I still don’t know for how long we danced that night. It felt as though time had stopped. It’s true, neither my mobile nor her clock was present. But more importantly, the candle light made us feel as though we were on a stage far away from the world around us. As though a platform had been erected for us in the middle of darkness. Nothing else mattered, not the honking of cars outside, not the whiz of computers, nor the chime of Facebook notifications. That night, it felt like we were the only ones present, as though nothing mattered except that we had each other.
I twirled her around, holding my arm above her head as I watched her skirt spin in the air. She was graceful and serene, and eventually the song reached its conclusion – a soft piano medley. I pulled her towards me, and as we gently swayed from side to side, I looked into her eyes and said, “Parisa, you once met a guy who treated you badly, made you cry, and hurt you deep inside. But today you’re looking at a guy who would gladly spend two weeks practicing in his room so that he could have a dance with you. A guy who would stay up every night looking at his mobile, willing the words ‘Online’ to flash across the screen. A guy who wouldn’t mind waiting an entire year if he could get a day in your company. When I see your face, my only wish is to say or do whatever it takes to hear you laugh, and to see your eyes twinkle with joy. It would ache me deep inside if I saw you shed a tear, and I would do anything to be the one guy who gets to wipe it away. I don’t love you because you are beautiful, but because you make me feel the most beautiful emotion in the world. The one where I wouldn’t mind hunger, fatigue or thirst if I could ensure none of it for you. I love you because you make it so easy to wake up and so hard to fall asleep. So would you, Parisa, give me the chance to increase every ounce of happiness you feel, and vanquish every minute of misery you endure. Would you, Parisa, allow me to love you?”
There was a deep silence in the room as Varun finished, fixing his gaze on the ground. I glanced and was surprised to see tears welling up in Aishwarya’s eyes. Teena and Preeti were overwhelmed too.
“That was so sweet!” they said.
Kevin looked unimpressed. Especially since his girlfriend was swooning for the story.
“So when did all this happen?” he asked gruffly.
“Last year when?”
“In October or early November I guess.”
Kevin muttered something, and unceremoniously got up, heading straight for the door. A few minutes later, as the five of us were discussing relationships, Kevin strode in again, looking vindictive.
“You lying little – ”, he held his tongue, but smiled devilishly.
“Guys, whatever he said was a cock and bull story!”
“What?” I asked, feeling annoyed.
Harish entered, chuckling. “He didn’t go to Delhi last year. We know. He was at home in Chandigarh itself. We know a guy who studied with Varun till 12th. Just asked him on Facebook.”
“Is this true, Varun?” Aishwarya asked, looking hurt.
Varun hung his head and nodded quietly. “I never got to go to Delhi,” he said quietly.
“So you just made all that up? What the hell, man!” I cried, feeling offended.
Kevin and Harish, satisfied at having discredited the love story, left to play some more Fifa. We looked at Varun for an explanation. We all knew him well. He wasn’t the kind to tell a blatant lie.
“I couldn’t go to Delhi,” he said slowly. “She invited me, but in the end it never actually happened. She had to postpone twice because of her friends. And then – well then she left to the U.S.”
“What?” Teena cried. “Wait, now you swear this is true, right?”
Varun smiled. “Yeah. I never lied anyway. I told you a story of me meeting her. It’s what should have happened. And if it had, that’s what I would have done and said.”
“But it never happened!” I objected.
“So what?” Varun snapped, feeling annoyed. “You think just because her friends caused her to postpone my visit, and her parents sent her to the U.S. that just erases my feelings? How can that take away anything?”
We remained silent. It was clear that we’d hit a nerve. He was obviously still in love with her.
“So you still trying to ask her out?” I asked. He shrugged his shoulders. “I cant. She is dating another guy.”
This time the girls were genuinely sympathetic.
“But didn’t you tell her how you feel?”
“I did. But that doesn’t matter. It would never have worked between the two of us. I’m here. She’s there.”
I decided to speak my mind. “Dude, this is starting to make sense. So that’s why you haven’t been in a relationship since last year. But man, I’d say you should just forget it. She isn’t going to be available, so just forget it.”
He listened, remained silent for a few moments, and then looked straight at me. “You know, my father was a great cricket fan. He always wanted to visit Lords in U.K. From the age of 17, he had a picture of that stadium in his wallet. Now, we came from a middle class family. And my father had a lot of commitments. There was no way he’d actually be able to fulfill his dream. My mother knew that. She told him that many times. Do you know what my father said to her? He said, ‘Why do dreams always have to be fulfilled? Why is it that we need success in all our goals. Is that the only reason to pursue them? Are we such cowards that we will only board ships that are certain to reach the destinations? Sure, safety is a reason. But what about daring? Why cant we just hope sometimes? I’ll tell you why. Because that will more often than not, hurt us. And we are too scared to get hurt. We’d rather give up a sliver of chance to fulfill our dreams, than be hurt. But I’m not going to do that. I’ll dream. I’ll dream till the end. And I wont be hurt. For I took my chance. I fought the battle that others were just too scared to fight.’”
He finished and looked at us expectantly. I shook my head. “So you’re telling me that you will hope to get together with her some day? Even if it will never happen?”
Varun smiled. “Do you know what my mother showed me the day my father died? His wallet. Inside was that picture he’d had as a 17 year old. Does that answer your question?”
I left the room and entered the toilet. As I washed my face, a thought crossed my mind. What if all of this had just been a story. The only shred of evidence I’d seen was the photo. And that could easily have been taken off the internet. Maybe he was lying, concoting an elaborate, emotional story.
I returned to the room, stopped in my tracks, and burst out laughing. Aishwarya was learning how to do the fox trot. Varun was teaching her.
He’d decided to wait, after all.
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