Ashish was very impressed by Sameera’s story. Or was it her shining black eyes that impressed him? “Rohit, it is a brilliant story. A sure best seller! It has all the ingredients of a good story. A little editing and I could put it up for your approval”. Ashish had never advocated so much for any author before and never for a stranger and a new comer. Rohit was perplexed. Rohit and Ashish owned a publishing house. Ashish was the one who first read the stories. Only stories shortlisted by him went to Rohit his friend, partner and head of the publishing firm.
“Your manuscript is amazing Ms. Saniyal. Let me put it up for approval of the publishers. The drama and suspense kept me up late last night. I just couldn’t keep it down. You have a lot of talent.” Ashish had told her. “Thank you, that’s very kind of you”, Sameera got up to go. “Can I have your phone number please …. in case I need to contact you?” said Ashish . He wasn’t sure of the reason but knew he had to get to meet her more.
The story was published in the short story compilation and the book instantly became a best seller. The publishing house had arranged a book release and a press conference. All the authors who had contributed to the short story collection were invited and the Press could ask questions to the authors. Ashish realised that unknowingly he was watching Sameera. There is something intriguing about this girl, something that is deep and profound, he kept on telling himself. “Is this story based on real life experience, or is it a work of fiction?” one of the journalists asked Sameera. “Partly both” was all she said. Sameera spoke very little. Ashish was hoping she would speak more and answer the questions of the press more openly. That would boost the sales of the book.
The party was in full swing. The authors of the short stories, the publishing house staff and the press people were thoroughly enjoying themselves. The room smelt of a mix of smoke and liquor. Ashish was also dancing and enjoying himself when his attention went to where Sameera was seated. He noticed that Rohit was intimately speaking to her and for a moment Ashish felt jealous. He then smiled at himself. Sameera was not a stunning beauty but she had an irresistible charm. Rohit is having fun, he thought.
“Great evening! But where did you vanish after sometime?” Ashish asked Rohit. “Oh, I went to drop Ms Saniyal. It was getting late, and she did not enjoy the noise. She was having a headache. We stopped for a cup of coffee at the coffee shop, and then I dropped her home.” Ashish again felt as if he was feeling jealous. He smiled at himself. Rohit is a lucky man, he thought!
Ashish was immersed in work. He always enjoyed meeting deadlines. The thrill that went into working long hours especially on new projects always gave him a high. But this time something was different. He kept on thinking about Sameera. An unknown girl had come into his life and kept on haunting his thoughts. He could not figure out what it was about Sameera that attracted him so much. Ashish had never been the romantic type. Girls are stupid and emotional was his firm belief and he was a very practical person, at least that is what he thought of himself till he had met Sameera. He had never been in any kind of serious relationship. He always believed that when the time is right, the right person would come into his life and he need not go searching for her. He believed that love is imaginary and existed only in stories, and love stories are a good way of making a lot of money.
“The person you are trying to contact is not answering…” the recorded message was irritating Ashish. Did she give him a wrong number? Or has the success gone to her head that she refuses to answer her phone, or is something wrong with her? …..all kind of thoughts kept troubling him. He went to the record room to try and get Sameera’s address or some other contact number and opened her contract file. “Looking for something?” Rohit’s voice suddenly startled Ashish. He was holding Sameera’s file in his hand. “Umm….no just wanted to go through the contract as I have a new author to whom I wanted to send the format…” Ashish tried to wriggle out of the situation. “But that is available on your laptop.” Rohit was making it difficult for Ashish. “Oh yes, I forgot!” He quickly kept the file back and went to his seat.
He sent several messages on her phone but got no response at all. Days turned into months and it was almost a year. But Ashish had not been able to get Sameera out of his mind. To pacify his mother and yield to family pressure he had decided to go to Delhi to see the girl his parents had chosen for him.
The airport was crowded with a number of flights leaving at short intervals of time. Ashish’s flight was on time. He had finished security check and was enjoying the new look of the airport. The airports in India were getting a facelift and were now on their way to becoming world class he thought. Suddenly across the room at the other end he saw a familiar face. A lady was reading a book. Could that be Sameera? Almost as if in a trance, Ashish went up to her and said “Hello Ma’am, how are you?” Sameera looked up and for the first time Ashish saw her smile. “Oh Hi, what a pleasant surprise? How have you been?”
Ashish sat in the seat next to her. “Flying to Delhi?” he tried to open conversation. “Yes, and you?” Ashish was too excited, “Same….” He had been insanely trying to get in touch with Sameera and now when she was close to him, he could hardly say anything to her. Why did you not reply to my messages? He decided to drop the question. It hardly mattered now.
After what looked like a long silence Ashish said, “Where are you staying in Delhi?” “At the Retreat. It’s a very cosy place. I like it very much.” Ashish tried his luck again by saying, “Can I see you tomorrow? I am free in the evening. It would be nice if we could have dinner together”. He had never asked a girl out like that in his life. He found it stupid to go out on dates with girls. “Let me call you tomorrow. I don’t know my schedule. I have an important meeting and it may take long.” Ashish felt she was again trying to avoid him. He gave her his business card. “Do call me anyway.” He said. They boarded the flight. He was hopeful of being able to exchange his seat for one next to her but the flight was full and the attendant refused. At Delhi airport they bid goodbye. “I’ll be waiting for your call” said Ashish.
Ashish waited the whole evening for the call from Sameera. He even managed to put off the programme of seeing the girl his parents had chosen. He went to bed rather dejected. She has no feelings for me he thought. Not in any mood to do anything constructive, he opened his laptop to check emails. You have new message …the icon on the computer was blinking. “I know you think I have ditched you, but believe me I am equally hurt. Some lives are never meant to be together, they are like two banks of a river. We are like that. If they meet, the place will flood.” Ashish had tears in his eyes as he read on. “You are very special and will always remain that in my life. If our paths cross again, I will be very happy. Have a great life ahead.” Why is she trying to avoid me like that! May be she is in love with someone else. Ashish banged his hand on the table.
It was almost mid-night. He picked up the phone and dialled her number. “Please can we meet for one more time? If you have any feelings for me you will come. I will be waiting for you till you come at the Coffee Corner from 6 pm onwards. Just one more time please…” he did not wait for her response and disconnected the phone.
The waiter was getting restless. “Will that be all Sir?” he asked. “No get me one last coffee,” he told the waiter. He looked at his watch. It said 8.30 pm. He was tired and dejected. What was it that was troubling him so much? If this was love, he did not want it. It really hurt him.
“Sorry” the hush voice startled him. “What happened?” he asked. “I wasn’t sure if I should do this, but since you were so stubborn about it, I had to give in. I have been here from 6 pm. I was hoping you would leave after sometime” said Sameera. “You really thought I’d leave?” he sounded angry.
There was an uncomfortable silence for a while. “The reason I asked for this meeting is ….Can I know, what is it that I lack that I cannot be your life partner?” Ashish broke the silence. Sameera had an uncomfortable look on her face. “Oh you are the perfect person. If there is anything lacking it is in me.” Her voice was chocking and she could hardly bring herself to speak. She looked down and fidgeted a bit. “My life has been a big mess.”
Ashish heard her out without any interruption. “The emotional torture I have gone through will never heal and I will never be able to love anyone again.” Sameera narrated the horrific story of her life. Her college boy-friend, who was madly in love with her, after marriage became a tyrant. He disapproved her working in a private firm. He made allegations about her male colleagues. Added to that his parents had not approved of their marriage as she was not from their royal caste and she was always taunted by her mother-in-law. Her husband ill treated her, came home drunk and even beat her up. She even heard rumours of him having a relationship with some other woman. After three long years of bearing the abuse, and unable to take it any longer she walked out on him. This led to a lot of emotional torture for Sameera. When her own family disowned her, one day she decided to leave her hometown and take a job in Mumbai. She worked in a small firm and in her spare time wrote stories. Now Ashish realised how she was able to write such realistic and touching stories.
Ashish gently pressed her hand. “What made you think that any of this would make me change my mind? I firmly believe that whatever happens; happens for the best. Your past has nothing to do with me. My advice to you is to think of it as a bad dream and forget it forever. All I care about now is my life with you and all my beautiful tomorrows which I plan to spend with you. I am madly in love with you. Will you be my life partner?”
Sameera just nodded. She could not bring herself to say anything. She had tears of joy running down her cheeks while Ashish gently kissed her hand.
“Mom, you should write your life story in your next book. Or better still write it as a script for a movie.” Anita was telling her mom while dad Ashish was signalling thumbs up to her from their garden. “Ensure that I get a lead role in the movie….” said Ashish and they all hugged and laughed together.