“Hauz Khas”, Varun said to the auto driver and the auto started to make its way through the busy road of Green Park market. He checked his watch, though there was no sense in checking the time. Time was of no importance today. He had reached Delhi a few hours ago and it had been along and tiring journey. The weather was very bad over Pakistan and nobody on the plane could sleep because of the heavy turbulence.
Varun had been waiting impatiently for this journey to happen. For the last two years, he had been living in self exile, voluntarily disconnecting himself from everybody for the sake of a dream which had grown so big that it became impossible for him to keep it hidden from unwanted people in his family and friend circle. He decided to leave the country, leave behind everybody, including his love, Divya.
“The auto won’t go ahead, you need to get down here”, the auto driver told him reaching at the barricade just outside the Hauz Khas village.
“Nothing has changed”, Varun said to himself as auto driver took the meter reading, counted his money and struck his head out the right side of the auto to reverse it and find another passenger towards the Green Park metro station.
He crossed the barricade and started walking towards Hauz Khas village. It felt to him as if he was here only yesterday. The art gallery to his right was hosting a photography exhibition by an Italian photographer. He thought of checking out some photographs, but his self conscious guided him against the idea. He was not here to entertain himself.
A fifty steps ahead of the art gallery situated TLR Restaurant & Bar. He walked into it. The images from a long ago time began to flash before his eyes. Every waiter knew Varun & Divya back then. They were loved by the staff, because they tipped the staff heavily. The Sundays were usually spent here before they got drunk enough to laugh so loud that it would start disturbing other customers in the restaurant. Divya would stand up in apology and drag Varun out of the restaurant. The door operator wishing them all the best and saying the customary “come again”. Varun smiled on the happy memories.
A waiter came with the menu and asked Varun whether he was waiting for someone to accompany him or was he alone.
“Is Binod still working here?” Varun ignored his question and asked the waiter probably about an old waiter friend he made during his past visits to the place.
“I am afraid not sir. Are you a regular customer?” the waiter tried to inquire to make sure whether the customer deserved better treatment.
“Used to be, haven’t visited in a long time. Entire staff has changed except the sitting arrangement. I would take that couch.”
“Sir, that couch is reserved for few guests in the afternoon.”
“I will leave before that.”
“Sure sir, this way.”
His thoughts drifted towards the time when entire staff at the restaurant knew him and his girl friend. They were fun loving and stylish. Varun had shuffled his feelings towards Divya at the very same place and both of them realized that they were meant to be together. Lovers mark places to remind themselves of the feelings they once shared. They too had multiple memories of the time they spent together, not only in this restaurant but everywhere they went together. All the movies that they saw, all the other places they visited, the journeys outside Delhi, every single moment spent together was rated with five shining golden stars, no less.
He shuffled through the menu and realized that the menu was unchanged. It brought a smile on his face. They would fight every time over Cheesy Rolls and Aloo Bites. He ordered a TLR Special Breakfast and asked for a Heineken till the breakfast arrived. Drinks acted like catalysts for them. Letting each other go loose and finding each other back through well crafted dialogues about future, their lives together, other people in their lives, people they will always keep, people they will never speak to again, every single point of their relationship was decided at this restaurant, at the very same couch where he was sitting alone today.
His phone buzzed but he chose to ignore it. He was not going to reply to any calls or messages today. He was going to enjoy each and every moment of the time he had to spend here. It was a special moment, a moment he had waiting for two years. He thought about the day when he decided to leave the country and how it had affected Divya.
He was not satisfied with whatever he was doing with his professional life. He got through B. Tech and landed himself in a relatively small company than what he hoped for. Divya too was working by that time. They did get Sundays to spend together and it was all going smooth till the time Varun decided that he had no future here. He considered himself over talented at his present job and believed that he deserved more. He applied for better jobs at various other companies all over the country and even abroad. Divya did not approve much of his decisions. The last thing she wanted on earth was maintaining a distant relationship.
Divya’s father wanted Varun to announce their relationship in a formal get together so that the family gossip about Divya being involved with someone could put to rest. Divya never pressurized Varun to go ahead with the declaration. Varun wanted to attain a financial stability before making the relationship public. The irking of the relatives irritated him. In the middle of all this, he received an interview call from an agency who was hiring candidates for Google. Varun grabbed the opportunity with both hands and decided against sharing the news with anyone.
The very next Sunday, while he was enjoying his day out with Divya at TLR, he broke the news to her.
“I am going to California”, he said while maintaining a composed look on his face as if nothing was wrong.
“I’m sorry? You’re going to?” it was hard for Divya to hide the surprised look on her face.
“California? The city in USA?”
“You want me to laugh?”
“I am not joking”
“Of course you’re not. Ok, you’re going to California to do what?” her eyes sparkled as she asked the question. It was evident that she was not buying it from Varun. She was certain that it was all a joke. Varun unlocked his phone, opened the email and showed a particular email to her.
Her expressions began to change as she read through the email. Varun had cleared all rounds of interview and Google had hired him. He had to report to Google’s office in California by the end of next month. The company had asked for his passport and educational certificates to be submitted to the recruiting agency to process his visa to travel.
“When did this happen?” Divya’s expression was unable to read for Varun.
“Two weeks ago”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was waiting for it to get confirmed; now it is, and now you know”
“This is cheating! You kept such crucial information from me! You are planning to leave the country and I have no clue about it!”
“It’s not that, you know I am not happy at my present job and this is big, for both of us. I need you to think calmly Divya.”
“Do hell with thinking calmly!” she had shouted, startling everyone in the restaurant, “You are cheating on me and I am supposed to think calmly! Am I a fool?”
“Don’t create a scene, sit down.”
“No, I am not sitting down and I am not staying here for another minute. You have been selfish, very selfish. You have just thought about yourself, decided about what you want to do without thinking about me for even once. You have been planning to leave the country, you have kept me in the dark and this is not acceptable. You, Mr. Varun Khanna, the cheater, you have just lost me, forever!”
Everyone was stunned. Varun didn’t expect Divya to behave in such manner. He didn’t say anything to her after that. She picked up her belongings and left without even looking at him. He kept looking at her, in a hope that she will give up. She took left from the restaurant entrance and stepped down the stairs. Varun’s world had just fallen apart.
The buzzing of phone brought him back to the present. He didn’t check the phone. Instead, he bottomed up the beer and asked for another one. It was quite early to be at TLR on a Sunday, the restaurant was empty and the staff was readying for a busy Sunday afternoon and an even busier evening. A live band was on schedule to play tonight. Varun had torn apart the evening schedule card lying on his table, shuffled all the pieces and began to solve the self created puzzle.
He realized that this is exactly what he had done with his life years ago, created a puzzle out of nowhere which he was trying to solve continuously. We create our own puzzles, confusions and moments of sadness. If we could only decide to just love back the people who love us, the world would be a much better and calmer place to live in. We expect, people respond to our expectations and we end up expecting more. There comes a time when our expectations from others take the shape of strict rules to live life. Expectations leave them with no space to live in their own way and it turns a loved one into a rebel. We end up losing everything we invested or hoped from the person. All the hours, days, weeks spent together. All the visions shared together. All the plans about the future take the back seat and we are left alone. Expectations, when turned into rules, ruin everything.
Another buzz of the phone brought him out of the thinking mode. The breakfast was placed before him. It was as if yesterday he had been here, ordered the breakfast and lots of appreciative words were said by Divya about the way it was served, the choice of the items in the breakfast. It was a complete breakfast.
“One should have such breakfast everyday”, she had said. It proved to be too big a statement to follow for Varun.
He went through the plate as slowly as possible, enjoying every bite of the delicious food. He knew he wasn’t coming here again any sooner. Today was all he had.
He ordered a third beer, the free one included in the happy hours on ordering two beers. He began to feel dizzy; the effect of beers had begun to show up. He began to find it difficult to concentrate on the self created puzzle out of the evening schedule that he was trying to solve. He struck the fork forcibly in the food, resulting in tinkling of fork hitting the plate. He was high on beer. He left the fork and lied back on the couch with his eyes closed, his head resting on the polished wood. Due to the tiredness from the long journey, the exhausting memories from the past and three quick beers, in to time, he fell asleep.
It was not the sound of the fork hitting the plate, it was something much soothing. It was the sound of someone’s anklet, and the sound was getting louder. He was sure he was dreaming, it was the same sound he last heard years ago, when someone walked out of this place, left him alone and wondering about what went wrong.
“Hi”, he could recognize this voice among million other voices.
Startled, he opened his eyes.
Divya, wearing a red and black saree, was standing on the other side of the table.
“You took forever to come”, he said.
“I was getting ready, packing took most of the time”
“Where are the papers?” he asked.
She opened her purse, took out some neatly folded papers and handed them over to him. He quickly glanced at the papers and a satisfactory smile fractioned on his face.
“I am sorry I passed out, been tired.”
“What time is the flight back?”
Divya was momentarily shocked, but she came back well.
“Why won’t you change your habit of rushing through everything?”
“If I hadn’t rushed through things two years ago, you wouldn’t be standing here today.”
“Agree!” she flashed a big smile, opened her arms towards him. He walked around the table, took her in his arms and clutched her tightly.
“God I missed you so much”, he whispered in her ears.
“Happy Anniversary Mr. Khanna”
“Happy Anniversary Mrs. Khanna”
He released her momentarily before planting a kiss on her forehead.
“Where’s luggage?”, he asked.
“At the reception.”
“I will call them when we land in California”, she beamed with happiness.
He took another look at the two years old marriage certificate. They decided to get married before he left for California and kept it private. All they had to do was trust each other. He had asked two years time from her and she had readily agreed after the bad fight on a Sunday two years ago. She wanted to see him happy and satisfied with his life. He wanted to be able to have a better life than anyone in his family had ever had. Their love for each other had stood the test of time, now it was time to live, with each other.
They sat quietly with jumbled fingers as the taxi sped through the busy roads towards the Delhi airport. While walking towards the check in counter at the airport, Divya stopped abruptly.
“Change of plans?” Varun joked.
“I love you.”
He smiled, cupped her face with his hands and replied, “I live you”.