Marriages are tough to manage and if it is an Indian marriage, God be with you. Aniket was looking for his one chance since morning to kiss Kaajal whereas she had kept herself busy with something or the other, and necessarily so. Managing the wedding of your younger sister is no small task. Each and every relative has to be given the highest level of importance or else the taunts shall be made at the poor wedding planning for at least a decade. In some cases, those were the kids of the couple getting married who grew up enough to tell the grown-ups to stop acting childish. Kaajal didn’t want to be blamed for anything. She was making sure every guest was well fed because, logically, that is what Indian weddings are all about.
A team of cooks, trained in cooking any dish from Spanish to Chinese, from Japanese to Continental, from Snacks to Seafood is hired specially to take care of continuous churning of taste specific stomachs of the gathering of guests who religiously show up on such family occasions where good food is served with a lot of good gossip.
Years and years of happenings within the families are shared and their outcomes discussed. Whose kid scored the highest marks, whose daughter was seen with a boy, whose boy was caught reading a porn magazine in his bathroom, all truths are shared and judgments about their futures are made. The ultimate conclusion and the ultimate blame always falls on the parents. Like father, like son. Like mother, like daughter. Case closed.
The case of Aniket and Kaajal was one of a different kind. Aniket was the apple of everyone’s eye whereas Kaajal was every fruit in Aniket’s. Both of them were happy in each other’s company, but as the ritual goes, the far flunked members of the family were not very fond of Kaajal.
Before Kaajal became a widow, she was happily married to Ranjan. The same far flunked relatives had blessed the couple with millions of wishes and had enjoyed the exotic food at their wedding. Ranjan took special care of Kaajal and when he died in a road accident, Kaajal’s life stopped abruptly. The shock was unbearable for her. What do you say to a woman who loses her husband after eight years of a satisfactorily happy married life? She broke down and went into depression. After a year passed, her parents proposed her to remarry. They had even prepared a list of probable grooms, some of them widowers, but she paid no heed. They asked her whether she was already considering someone, she still paid no heed. Aniket was always there though, beside her, charming her everyday and trying his best to put her life together again.
Aniket could be seen everywhere with her. If she was coming back from work, he would be waiting for her at the bus stand. If she was going for a little shopping, he could be seen with her, suggesting her colors to buy. She bought colorful clothes for him once in a while, but for herself, she always bought the light colored fabric, attested by the ritualistic society for an Indian widow. She didn’t want to show the world that she was happy with Aniket’s presence in her life, but every night, before sleeping, she would close her eyes and imagine Aniket’s face, smiling back at her and in that moment, she knew life was worth living, worth loving again. Her sleeps were beginning to get peaceful again and her dreams, regardless of light colored fabric she wore, were beginning to be that of a colorful future.
In the months to come, it was an understood fact that Aniket and Kaajal were inseparable. There was certain weirdness in the way they spent time together, but it was far from unacceptable. Aniket just wanted to be with Kaajal, no questions asked and by the look of happiness on Kaajal’s face, she seemed to be wanting the same. Their minor nuisances were ignored continuously. He would suddenly grab Kaajal’s hand and tell her to sit and talk to him. She would happily do as asked. He was the nucleus of her life and she was that one electron that kept him stable.
“I won’t leave you ever. Even if you get so old that you are not able to walk”, he said to her one day while they were walking in the community park.
“I will die before I get that old”, she replied casually.
“Well”, he looked towards his feet and completed his sentence, “that’s a different case.”
Life tricks us all the time. It tricks us when it brings someone into our lives. It tricks us again when it takes that someone back and hands it over to death. It is as if life is a merciless judge sitting in the court of death, passing judgments about life and death emotionlessly. It tricks us yet again when it brings another person into our lives and makes us believe that this time, it might be forever. But, the moment we tend to forget that ‘forever’ is a myth, life tricks us by abruptly ending a forever and hitting us hard with the one reality, that everyone leaves. Kaajal understood this well enough to not make Aniket habitual of her presence in his life. But for Aniket, all that mattered was Kaajal.
He was there with her when Ranjan died. The accident occurred a week prior to Ranjan & Kaajal’s eighth wedding anniversary. Aniket didn’t sleep for two days, kept company with a more worrisome Kaajal and in the end, it was Ranjan who requested Aniket to take care of Kaajal as he himself did for so many years. Aniket could not hold back his tears any longer and even when he knew that he would never be able to replace Ranjan in Kaajal’s life, he promised himself that he would make a permanent space for Kaajal in his heart.
Aniket was very happy when marriage of Kaajal’s sister was announced. Marriages are a breakthrough event for all the family members. He was happy that Kaajal will have so much on her mind that she wouldn’t be able to direct her thoughts towards Ranjan’s absence. He was hopeful that for at least two weeks, he would enjoy the looks and expressions of a natural Kaajal, the one he had always known.
The marriage preparations began weeks before the actual event and Kaajal had no time for Aniket. She didn’t even have time for herself. Her sister, Aanchal, was the center of attraction and Kaajal wanted to leave no stone unturned to make this a memorable event for her sister. She wanted it to be the one event in the family which would be remembered and discussed for its perfect execution for the years to come. She was going through the dress designs for the bride when Aniket tapped her shoulder. She was sitting on her knees and Aniket stood right behind her, looking at the models posing in the brochure.
“Here you are! I was looking for you. Tell me which dress will look better on Aanchal?” she asked flipping the pages in quick succession, hoping Aniket will remember and compare the differences between the different models.
“Are they all costly?” Aniket asked bluntly.
“Yes they are.”
“Then finalize anything, she loves anything that’s costly.”
Kaajal raised her eyebrows at him and said, “Someone seems to be in a very bad mood.”
“Someone really is.”
“And why is someone in a bad mood?”
“Become someone didn’t kiss someone.”
She looked at him for a couple of seconds and replied, “Kisses, my dear, are for babies.”
“Oh come on!”
She stood up, put her hands on his shoulders and said, “Well, I can’t kiss you right now because I don’t want you roaming all around the house with lipstick marks on your cheek. Let’s postpone it till dinner is done. Ok?”
“Not at all ok! Look at me, here,” he took her hand and kept it at his heart, “feel my uneven heartbeat. Show a little mercy.”
She replied, “As you can see I am already distracted, why don’t you go find something useful to do rather than follow me everywhere?”
“Something useful like what?” he asked.
“Like check if all the bulbs in the house are working or not?”
“I hate you, seriously”, he said in a flat tone.
She copied his tone and replied, “This is what I hear when I tell you to do something for me?”
He sighed heavily, raised his arms and dropped them instantly.
“Whatever!” he said and left. She kept looking at him. He didn’t turn back. She knew he wouldn’t. She also knew he wouldn’t go and check the bulbs; he will stay around and come back to her as soon as he finds her alone again.
She wasn’t paying attention to the designs anymore. Her thoughts travelled back to Ranjan. How he loved her and how Aniket was now trying his best to love her like Ranjan did.
She remembered that night, the night of the accident. Aniket was only keeping a dying man’s promise. If one had to compare the amount of love both Ranjan and Aniket had for Kaajal, one would find the balancing scale perfectly balanced at the center. No one loved her lesser than the other. In another time, she would have considered herself a lucky woman, today, she was just happy that Aniket was there.
The fishing trip was still afresh in her mind as if it happened yesterday. Aniket had no interest in fishing. He didn’t like killing fish just for the sake of having fun. Ranjan, on the other hand, loved fish and whenever he caught one, he cooked it himself. During one of the private moments between Aniket & Ranjan, Aniket had asked Ranjan about how much he loved Kaajal. Ranjan didn’t reply. Later, when three of them were together, Ranjan told Kaajal about Aniket’s question. Aniket had a visible expression of embarrassment. Before he could come up with a convincing explanation about why he asked that question, Ranjan answered Aniket, “I love Kaajal as much as fish loves water. For me, loving her is a necessity, a condition to live.”
Ranjan still died. He died even when the conditions to live were perfectly met with. His life was like a tsunami that filled everything in Kaajal’s life with his love and his death was also similar to that of a tsunami that takes everything with it as it travels back towards the ocean. He left Kaajal on life’s shore, drenched in tears of separation, alone. He took with him Kaajal’s happiness and the twinkling shine of her eyes. Kaajal found herself like a fish without water. She felt breathless, eager to go back into the sea, crying her lungs out for even a little water so she could survive.
Aniket knew that Kaajal would never get over Ranjan. Though he loved Kaajal, he had never forced himself on her. Many years ago he had, continuously, forced himself on her in order to have her attention all the time, but as time passed, he felt contented just by being around her and by her being around him. Ranjan had requested Aniket to love Kaajal like he did but Aniket wanted to be a step ahead. He wanted to love her like no one had loved anyone till date and it was this enthusiasm in him that caused him to come back only fifteen minutes later to tell Kaajal that all the bulbs were working fine but there was a fan in one of the bedrooms which wasn’t working. Kaajal was in the kitchen, helping her mother to prepare pre-lunch snacks for the guests.
“Now, I want my kiss”, he said.
“I told you already! After dinner!” she exclaimed.
“But there are still seven hours to dinner!” he exclaimed back, copying her.
“Patience honey boy”, she said as she poured tea in the cups.
“Patience? It seems as if you want me to be a patient!”
Kaajal’s expression changed in a moment. She had seen Ranjan as a patient and the memory of him lying on the hospital bed still haunted her. She hated hospitals, she hated doctors. She always believed that Ranjan could have been saved at the night of the accident. He was injured in an accident, his body had dragged on with the bike and the left side of the body was completely scathed. Countless glass pieces dug deep into his skin which caused blood oozing out continuously form every cut but it was not the accident that killed him, it was the delay caused by doctors to give him first aid that made him vulnerable to death. By the time doctors started attending his injuries to remove glass pieces from his body, he had already caught infection. His skin had started releasing pus and when he could not bear the pain anymore, death engulfed him, he succumbed to his injuries.
He was still in his senses when doctors told them that it was not easy to operate on him. The infection was growing at an alarming rate. Ranjan had few hours and it was better if he was put to sleep before the pain became unbearable for him. He had asked for Kaajal. A tear left his eye when he saw Kaajal’s face. She hadn’t slept in more than 48 hours. Aniket was by her side, holding her, trying to give her strength. Ranjan didn’t know what to say to Kaajal so he looked at Aniket and signaled him to come closer.
Aniket looked at Kaajal and she nodded her head, her right hand on her lips to suppress the sobs, the drops of tears carving a new bumpy path on her fingers and dripping down on her dupatta. Aniket walked a couple of steps towards Ranjan and held his outstretched hand.
“Do me a favour Aniket”, Ranjan said.
“Love her like I love her.”
In those five seconds, a deal was struck; a man to man promise was made which went on to make Aniket to do anything and everything for Kaajal. She looked at Ranjan, who was looking at Aniket and trying his best to smile, trying his best to hide his pain from the wounds, trying his best to act as a man, not as a patient.
She hated the word patient and she was angry on Aniket on using that word. She didn’t expect him of all people to make her feel bad, to pinch the wound of a scarred past on her heart and make her feel the pain all over again.
“Don’t you dare to use that word again!” Kaajal shouted at Aniket.
“I am sorry”, Aniket was quick to apologize, understanding the surge of memories in Kaajal’s mind.
“Don’t talk to me”, she said rudely.
“I said sorry already!” Aniket pleaded.
“We are not talking. You are to be punished for using the P word, and your punishment is that you will not talk to me, come close to me or send a message to me through anyone. If you did so, that would be another mistake which will attract another stricter punishment”, she declared her judgment to him.
He kept looking at her, as if hoping that she will take back her words. On finding no sign of her turning soft, he lowered his head and left the room.
“Why are you so tough on him?” Kaajal’s mother asked.
Kaajal didn’t reply for a long time. Her mother thought she hadn’t heard what she said. She touched her arm. Kaajal looked at her with teary eyes and said, “I don’t want him to take me lightly. I don’t want him to think that I am always available. I believed it once that someone was always available for me and then he was gone in a moment. I want Aniket to know and understand that people leave you just like that, without even a warning sign.”
“That is all ok, but look at him, he looks so hurt when you behave blunt with him. I think you are being unnecessarily tough on him. Drop the guard a little. Everyone wants to feel loved”, her mother said and got busy in arranging the cutlery while Kaajal pondered upon her mother’s words.
After the snacks were served, she asked few people whether they had seen Aniket, no one had. She looked for him everywhere, in the kitchen, in all the rooms, on the roof as well but he was nowhere to be found. Lastly, she checked the garage and there he was, sitting on the driver’s seat of her father’s car, looking at her coming towards him.
She knocked on the window glass, there was no response. She slapped the window glass hard and he instantly rolled it down. She bent on the window and said, “What are you doing here?”
He looked straight ahead, silently. She raised her eyebrows and asked, “Can I come and sit with you?”
He shrugged his shoulders. She walked to the other side of the car, opened the door and sat with him. After a long silence, she turned her face towards him and said, “I love you Ani, and there is no doubt about that but you need to act your age. This childish attitude, childlike behavior doesn’t feel good. Show a little maturity. I can kiss you all day when I’m not busy, but you hop around me like I am a carrot and you are a rabbit, even when I am busy, and that irritates me. I don’t want to hurt your feelings but I am not available all the time!”
He said only four words, “I love you too”.
She stayed silent.
He looked towards her for a moment and said, “I am just trying to keep my promise”.
“I know, I understand. But it’s not easy. Neither for you, nor for me.”
“All I am asking for is a kiss. Let it be my duty to make it easy.”
She sighed heavily and said, “Ok, look at me.”
He turned his face towards her again. She brought her face closer to him, cupped his face in her hands and placed her lips on his left cheek, then on the right cheek and then on his forehead. She finally rubbed her nose with his nose and said, “My naughty and angry little boy.”
There was a satisfying expression on Aniket’s face. He was beaming with happiness. He held her wrists, kissed her hands and said, “My drama queen mother.”
She rested her forehead against his’ and whispered, “Like father, like son.”