All these older chapters are the unpolished, unedited versions of the book which were originally posted on wattpad. Exactly the same content, I’m posting here, without making any changes to the narrative.
She thought about it and was disappointed as she wondered aloud, “Yes. Arranged marriage is ‘exactly’ that… You sleep with someone you don’t even know properly… Yeahhh… shitttt!”
“At least, I knew my neighbour since a long time.” He chuckled.
“But you didn’t love her? Not even a bit?”
“Sex is not love… period! These two words and emotions attached to them are different. In fact, there are usually no emotions attached to the first one.”
“It’s not. Trust me… Men are like that… we have clear distinction between physical desires and deeper emotions. We don’t confuse them. We become loyal once we are committed as then, it becomes morally wrong to look for gratification outside of the relationship.”
“That says about your character. I’m impressed.”
“And we women can’t seem to separate the two. Girls become intimate only when they lose their heart to someone.”
“It’s just a matter of perception. You are stuck in a trap, otherwise, physical needs should not be confused with emotional aspects.”
“Hmm… If I think like a doctor, I can understand the way hormones rule a person. But when I think like a girl, I feel love needs to form the base of every relationship.”
“A trap of mind, as I said!” He shrugged.
“Maybe!” She shrugged too.
“To give it so much thought…again, this is a trap!”
“So, you are a playboy?”
“Oh…no… Not at all… I am not a womaniser… It was a general theory about men, which I was uselessly debating about. I respect women and had that one episode of the physical thing with this girl that I was talking about. My neighbour. I was a teenager at that time and too new to all this… After that, I realised that it is not my thing to fool around… I’ve never had a row of girlfriends lined up for me. I didn’t break hearts. And I don’t sleep around, opposite to what you are thinking right now.”
“But why?” She asked with a frown, observing him keenly, “You look good!”
He laughed at that. Loud and clear. She noticed that his eyes squeezed a little before they opened again to twinkle as he laughed. “Well… thank you for that compliment…but I don’t connect with people easily. Though, I was good looking and sporty, but I was always considered snooty.”
“I don’t know why… Maybe, because I always spoke less.”
“I can’t believe it that you’ve never had a girlfriend…”
“in fact, I had one… actually… I’ve had one serious relationship, in college.” He became unsettled and grim, when he talked about that. Tapping his fingers on the table before him, and his eyes examining the action, he calculated his words for a moment and then said, “Let’s not talk about her.”
“Why? Did she dump you?” She asked, earning an irked glare from him. She was least bothered of his angry stare. Instead, she raised her brows and asked another question, “Do you still miss her?”
He shrugged with a dejected look on his face, “Yes, she dumped me and… No, I don’t miss her.”
“That is a lie. It shows in your eyes that you miss her!” She declared.
He spoke seriously, “No, I don’t. That’s the truth. What you see in my eyes is the pain of failure. I hate failures. She represents my failure in a relationship in which I invested emotionally and gave my time, energy and feelings. But she dumped me over a phone call. She didn’t even have the courtesy to sit and talk properly about why she wanted to go.”
“Ouch!” She felt bad for him, “Over a phone call?”
“Yes. She was my failure because I was shown the mirror by her. She said that I am a workaholic and an introvert. Basically incapable of a relationship. I’m more of a robot who works, works, works, all day and night. After that, I am emotionally unavailable. I didn’t care for her, enough, she complained on and on about it… so much so that I started losing confidence in my abilities to interact with anyone.”
Nandini was quiet for a long moment, hearing him, with her lips pressed together and eyes focused on his face. “Is that why you are running away from marriage?”
Manik turned his eyes away and shrugged, “Not only marriage, but yes, from every relationship. I haven’t been in any relationship after she dumped me. That was an year back. I think she was right. And I think, that happened because I haven’t achieved in my career, what I had set out for… I have to reach places in my field of work…”
“So, you feel that any relationship at this stage will end up like the previous one?”
“Obviously! I will keep working all the time and stay focused on my goals… and the girl in my life will feel neglected at all times… I can’t take that risk again…I am really not available… That is what my parents fail to understand. I want just 2-3 years more. I think, I will be ready to get married by the time I am 32-33 years of age.”
She nodded, “I think you are justified. Your reason is valid and genuine. There is no point beginning a relationship when we are not ready.”
“Exactly. I’ve hurt a girl already. I don’t want to do it again!” He spoke strongly, determinedly, decidedly.
She blinked assuringly and sighed, “You are hurting too.”
“I won’t lie… It pains.”
“Did you do it purposefully? Did you mean it when you hurt her?”
“Hell! No. Why would I do so, if I was aware of that? I didn’t even know of her expectations from me. I was just a self-centered boy busy in work and chasing my goals. I had no idea how to treat her. She gave me this tag – ’emotionally unavailable’ and to be honest, I still don’t know what to do about it.”
She smiled at his honesty and her smile lit the surroundings as she assured him. “Then, stop feeling bad about it. You can’t apologise for being ‘you’. I don’t know much about you, so I can’t say what she meant when she said that you were unavailable emotionally, but I know one thing – It would have been entirely your fault if you had cheated on her, or abused her mentally or physically. But if you are just being yourself, the other person has a choice – to accept you or leave you! She made a choice! She didn’t accept you, she left you! When you don’t mean to hurt people, it’s not your fault when they get offended because you didn’t fulfill some dream that they harboured of an imaginary hypothetical ideal person.”
He stared at her for good one minute, trying to absorb all that she had said. It was definitely pleasing to his ears. Skeptically, he asked, “Do you mean to say that I didn’t push her away?”
“You must have done that, no doubt. But what I mean to say is, that it wasn’t your fault. You were being yourself. That’s it. And that’s fine. Every human being is a package. A bundle of vices and virtues. Good and bad. Negatives and positives. It is up to us whether we want to accept the package in totality or not. We cannot order and customise people according to our specifications. Take it or leave it. She left it. Not her fault either, I’d say. Just her choice!”
“You make it sound so simple.” He spoke, completely blown away at that theory.
She smiled. “I read a lot of psychology.”
“And I am suddenly feeling much better.”
She laughed proudly, raising the collars and asked, “You think I did a good job? My friends call me ‘love guru’…” And she laughed more with that.
“Love guru?” He nearly choked again on his diet coke, “Are you serious?”
She sniggered and bowed her neck, to accept praise, “I think, I give straightforward, practical advice and people appreciate that, as their own mind refuses to work when they are in love.”
“Ouch! How cynical!”
She laughed again. “Thanks.”
“What about you? Did you have any boyfriend?”
“Any? I had three!”
“Three?” He gawked at her. Raising his hand, he twisted his lips, “Pretty impressive.”
Her smile reduced in radiance and glow. In a soft, pleasing tone, she replied, “I’m completely opposite to you. I talk a lot, interact easily, make a lot of friends and end up trusting everyone… Usually the wrong people!”
He didn’t know what to say to that. He had never had such a problem. He never trusted anyone.
She twitched her lips, lifting one shoulder casually, “Anyway, I take them as learning lessons. Sorry, I said three?? No…they were three plus one…”
“What does that mean? 3+1…”
“I’ll tell you!” She giggled and was back to her chirpy, happy self, “The first man I ever liked was when I was in school. Tenth standard. He was our sports teacher. Eight years older to me. He had this tall frame and muscular built. Greek God looks. I was infatuated like a love sick puppy. Instead of discouraging me, he led me on and I was totally lost in a ‘La La Land’ till I realised that all he wanted was to sleep with me. Swine!! Creep!! He shattered all my notions of love and romance at a tender age. My innocent feelings about love and togetherness were ruined. It was a huge mistake that I regret even today. I was able to protect my dignity but it took my innocence away.”
He listened to her without saying anything. He had nothing to say, anyway. But he was amazed at her ability to accept the truth. She didn’t need to give these details to him. She could have easily omitted and he would have never known. But it showed that she had a clear conscience and a truthful heart.
“The second guy was my cousin’s friend. I was in first year, medical college and hold your breath, this guy was one year younger, in last year of school. Class XII. This time, he was the one crazy in love with me, madly, terribly infatuated and I loved the attention he gave me. Another bad mistake. He was too young for his age and I realised that I need a man and not a school boy. It ended before few weeks.”
Her stories were getting interesting and he realised that she could speak non- stop on any given topic, in contrast to him, who had to search for words even on his favourite topic. He rested his folded elbow on the table and his cheek on his palm, listening to her keenly.
She laughed thinking about next, “The next one was a fake boyfriend !”
“Come again! What did you say?” He couldn’t believe it.
She laughed out loud, remembering the whole incident and told him between her laughter, “My best friend was getting married and all my friends are either married or engaged or at least hitched. I was the only single one. They used to look at me with sympathetic eyes and taunted me for still being daddy’s girl and little girl and all that. So I paid the nursing attendant of another hospital for three days to act as my boyfriend. He was good looking and he did such an awesome job at it.”
“Then what? I fired him, when the wedding was over. He was a paid one, right…” She laughed again.
He couldn’t stop grinning, “I haven’t seen a woman as crazy as you are!”
“Shall I take it as a compliment?” She asked, grinning, “Anyway, no one knows about this. And no one except me, knows about all three of them. And now, you know about them. Otherwise, I haven’t told anyone.”
“So, why did you tell me?” He asked.
“Because we don’t know each other. We are strangers. It’s good to talk to a person who doesn’t know anything about you. You will go back to Bangalore tomorrow. I will continue with my life in Mumbai. We will never cross paths again. It doesn’t matter to you what I do in my life and it doesn’t matter to me if you know about it. You won’t judge me on that, right?”
He nodded to agree. “Right.”
“And now that I know that even you are ‘slightly damaged’ like me… it makes it easier for us to understand, why would someone want to stay away from any relationship.”
He chuckled, “I like that word – ‘slightly damaged’… not crushed, not broken, not destroyed… just ‘slightly damaged’…”
She smirked, “That’s how I prefer to take it as. That word has hope for the future. Maybe, not now… but anytime later! Anyway, we met because our parents insisted that we meet. Now, I guess, we can safely go back and tell them that we didn’t like each other.”
He grinned to tease her, “You go and do that. I like you. I’m going to tell them that.”
Colours drained off from her face at that. Almost fumbling with words, she stammered, “You … you are not serious… Are you?”
He laughed loudly and blinked once to assure her, with a warm smile resting on his adorable face, “And you thought that only you can tease and joke?”
She smiled and hopefully looked at his face, “I was scared, you know… So? Will you please go back and tell your folks that you didn’t like me?”
“I will do the same. Shall I give you a call, and tell you how it went?” She asked, thinking deeply into it.
He nodded, looking at her confused, worried face.”I’ll wait for your call. Tomorrow is my last day in Mumbai. I’m going back by evening flight.”
“I remember, that.”
The drive back to Nandini’s building was fun, though full of small talk – weather, traffic, roads, culture difference between Bangalore and Mumbai, even politics… Nandini spoke more and Manik contributed some monosyllables and few sentences, but it wasn’t as awkward or uncomfortable as it was when they had earlier headed towards the Pizzeria. In fact, both noticed that he was speaking more than before now.
A camaraderie had developed between them at the restaurant and it seemed to grow slowly.
The car stopped below her building and they stepped out. He turned around the car to stand facing her. Nandini nodded slightly to end the interaction, tugged at her sling bag and gave him a wide smile. “What time are you leaving tomorrow ?” She asked.
He placed his hands in the front pocket of his denims and crossed the legs at the front as he leaned to relax his back at the bonut of the car. “Tomorrow evening 5.00 pm, I have a direct flight to Bangalore.”
“You know, I was not expecting anything from this meeting when papa told me to see you. In fact, I was prepared for the most uncomfortable dinner of my life but to be honest, it was nothing like that. It was great.”
“I enjoyed talking to you, too.”
“Alright, then. Have a safe journey back to Bangalore and good luck.” She smiled, saying goodbye.
He smiled, “Good luck to you too. All the best!”
On a positive note, they said their goodbyes and separated.
He had been tired for he had attended the seminar in the morning and later, he had been driving in the Mumbai traffic all through the day. After reaching the hotel, he waited for her call till almost midnight and when she didn’t call him, he lay down on the bed and drifted to sleep within few minutes.
At almost 1:30 in the night, his phone rang. Deep in his sleep, he picked it up and put it on his ear, even without looking at the number. His eyes were still closed and voice muffled, “Hello!”
“Manik, are you sleeping?” She whispered.
“What does a normal person do at midnight?” He opened his eyes and looked at the time in his wrist watch, before he continued in a tired voice, “At 1:30 am?”
She replied in a confused voice, “It depends… I study…”
He couldn’t stop grinning at that. He had been sleeping with his belly down on the bed. Now, he raised himself on his elbows and rubbed his eyes, supporting his upper body on his pillow.
“What is it, Nandini?”
“Listen, I’m really sorry, for calling this late. But… it is… kinda…urgent!”
“Urgent? What happened?”
“I need to talk to you… I mean, both of us need to talk… seriously!”
“Meet me tomorrow… I have so much to tell you…”
“Like… I can’t tell you right now…”
He lost his sleep for good. “What happened? Tell me right now!”
“No… I can’t talk right now… mom will be back any moment. She has gone to the kitchen to make coffee for me…”
“Coffee? At this time?”
“Tch… what is it with you?… Okay, forget it… When she comes back, she will sit here with me, to talk.. for I don’t know how long…”
“Gawwwdddd!! You are scaring me, Nandini…”
“Quickly listen now… I’ll call you early morning… 6:00 am… to tell you where we are meeting. okay?” She hushed a whisper in rapid sequence of short sentences.
She always made it like they were in a mystery movie… spontaneous, quirky and on-the-toes… he had never been like that…Unless planned properly, he found it difficult to execute.
Rolling his eyes, he sighed, giving up, “Okay!”
“Okay, bye now. Good night!” She quickly disconnected, leaving him stunned.
He chewed the inner aspect of his lip and lay down again, murmuring to himself, before closing his eyes again.
‘This girl can drive anyone crazy! Thank God we are not getting married!’