FORBIDDEN

Out of all things in the world, love has the worst timing.

I never agreed. If love was to be my privilege, I would go against the damn time to make it mine.

Humans crave so many things at a time. They say, love is not enough, yet even after having everything else, they keep looking for love to fill that large black hole, that void that resides within them. And if they manage to find this love, they seldom value it.

All my life, I kept waiting for love to arrive. I had finished 25 revolutions around the sun, yet I never collided with someone who could make me revolve around her.

After a point I started questioning my ability to understand love. Or maybe it was just my introverted self who could never pluck the courage to even like someone because he feared he would have to open up a conversation if he did. I never really knew what this feeling was like. Though I did know that it was missing from my life. My soul craved for that affection, but my personality never aided me attain it.

And so, I had always been confused about love….. until I saw her.

I saw her and the world stopped. I saw her and the universe came falling down at me. I saw her and the galaxies collapsed.

She was breathtakingly beautiful. Or is that an understatement? Well, I cannot comment on that. Maybe she was a completely domestic face for a lot of people. But what can I say? Beauty lies in the eyes of a beholder. For me, there wouldn’t be anyone more beautiful than her, ever.

No, she didn’t have blue eyes, snow white skin and thick, black hair falling down her waist. She had the dark black orbs which are found in every homely face, but the expression they carried, was one of a kind. Her brown hair shone in sunlight, like streaks of different colours. Her lips, painted crimson. And none of this would’ve made such an impact if she hadn’t had a head on collision with me.

It wasn’t her looks that I fell for. Being an introvert makes it impossible for you to make any decisions based on the external factors. We get judged so quickly that we are always deprived of letting ourselves be explored. All we wish for, is a chance to establish this to the other person that we could be interesting too if they would just let us bloom at our own pace. So when she ran into me, her proximity did not have as much effect on me as what she did after that had.

She had managed to stay on her feet. I was the one fallen on my butt. (Do not miss the metaphor here). She held out a hand for me yet I didn’t take it and struggled to raise myself.

But then she said,

“Hey! Take my hand. We can all get up on our own. But it is easier when someone gives a hand!”

Just like that, she took away my independence. For the first time, someone showed me how very easy it was to get up holding a hand. And the silly me, didn’t want a hand. He wanted the hand. He wanted her hand.

Whenever I close my eyes and think of her, I smell henna and jasmine and berries and pain.

Because if pain had a smell, it would be hers.

It was a wedding when I met her for the first time. It was her wedding.

She was the bride. She was the extrovert. She could do anything. Everyone knew she was off limits. She didn’t have to be careful about extending a hand to a quiet, young man lest he may like her. She was just being a nice human being and she could go around being beautiful and kind.

Well, I did not know she was the bride. Maybe I wouldn’t have looked at her. Maybe I wouldn’t have dreamed of her. Maybe I wouldn’t have built castles in thin air. Maybe.

My mother came over as soon as she left. And she burst my bubble. Her words still ring in my head, “she’s the prettiest bride I’ve ever seen!” (Me too mom, I thought). However, those few seconds of ignorance, those few seconds of not knowing that she was an impossibility, were enough for me to dream.

And once you have had a dream, you cannot un-see it.

I don’t tell my story to anyone. One, because I am not much of a story teller. Two, it sounds like attraction and infatuation. It sounds like a crush.

I’d said the same thing to myself back then. It’s a crush, it shall pass. People have crushes, don’t they?

So I carried on with the wedding. It was a matter of eight days.

But then, I saw her again and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. People like me are not cut outs for temporary feelings.

She sat across me, she laughed, she shook her head and a tendril of her hair fell on her face, she played with the kids, she pouted in selfies with her girls, she stood up when my mother didn’t have a seat, she sat cross legged on the floor like it was her home and no one was watching……

She was such a beautiful person inside out, that it ached. It ached to see her happy. Because her happiness was dwelling on the anticipatory changes in her life. That smile existed from one ear to another because a man was waiting for her to enter his life and make it heavenly.

I could not sleep that night. Her face kept popping up in front of my eyes. What was this? I never felt like this in my entire life!

Crazy. It is all hormones. I told myself. But why did I feel like I had never felt before? I started thinking about people in similar situations. When I’d finished scanning my acquaintances, I resorted to Bollywood movies. Not that I am a big fan, but isn’t everything about love possible in Hindi movies? However, there were no instances of a man falling for the bride in the wedding itself EVEN in Bollywood.

There was Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, but the leads had a history. There was Hasee toh Phasee but that story was on a different tangent. I had not even seen her before. I could not think of any other movie where the guy was stupid enough to have eyes for the woman who was surely out of bounds. Well, in movies, didn’t they always get the girl?

I didn’t sleep that night.

The next morning, I decided to fake an emergency at work and leave. But then the same melodrama that had brought me here in the first place also made me stay. Maa had infinite complaints about how I never attend functions with her. She basically wanted to set me up with someone, I knew. But she didn’t know…..

I decided to avoid her. But can you really avoid the bride at her own wedding? Especially when she was so chirpy. She would go around interacting with all the guests, asking if they needed anything. She took all the blessings and post-wedding tips so whole-heartedly. She didn’t care if she knew someone or didn’t, she just gelled along with everyone.

I was sitting in a corner while everyone danced, and she thought I felt left out. I mean she actually noticed me, which is a rare feeling in general even when I am not attracted to people.

I had been dragged to a lot of social situations before, but this one was different. When she came and dragged me, I let myself be dragged; and even danced not caring how pathetic I might be looking while doing so.

I felt a weird pit in my stomach when she held my hand and the lingering sensation of her touch did not leave me for hours. She was radiant. Too radiant even for a bride. It was her insides reflecting on her face. The beauty that resided within was seeping through her eyes and her smile.

I cried that night. Why did it ache so much? I had always had a tough time comprehending my feelings. And this one was so novel. I could not keep it inside and I had never known to express anything anyway.

Next morning, I tried to look for the possibilities. Like Hasee toh Phasee, maybe our story could have another tangent. Maybe the groom wasn’t worthy of her. Maybe she was too good for him. But was I good enough for her? Was she going to fall for me?

The groom and his family had booked the neighbouring villa. He wasn’t that far. If I had to find out, I really could. The pre-wedding ceremonies were going to begin in a day. There was a lot of exchange of stuff going on amongst the families. It was apparently dull work to carry heavy baskets to their villa; hence the volunteers were few.

I volunteered. I was about to leave when she sneaked around me with an envelope. She literally appeared out of nowhere and I was taken by surprise. A pleasant surprise….

So she wanted me to carry a small gift for her man, as they were not allowed to meet in person; she wanted me to hand over the envelope to him. I willingly agreed. I already wanted to judge the man in question, plus how could I deny her anything anyway?

So I met the guy I was competing with. Who am I kidding? He had it all when I hadn’t even begun. And she wasn’t a trophy. I could never compare her with anything worldly. All the metaphors stopped making sense when she was the muse.

That man, who was going to tie the knot with her, he was impeccable. It may not be possible to see the dark side of a person in one encounter, however, he had enough light to deserve her. The way his eyes lit up with emotion when he saw that small tie-pin she had sent, told me how much it meant for him.

I sat with him for a while. I marvelled at my own ease of communication. Or maybe it wasn’t me. He just made me feel comfortable enough to be able to ask him how he felt about getting married to her. More importantly, he told me. Who talks to a random guy like that? They were both so alike, earnest and genuine; how could I even think about hoping even for a second that they shouldn’t work out? I do envy them, but I’m not a monster.

A two things became clear after meeting him. One, he loved her a lot. Two, he deserved her.

It was the eve of Sangeet. I had promised him that I would help him hand deliver his gift in person to her. (Yeah, I am way too nice) So, I sneaked around her room and knocked. She was the bride, obviously she was surrounded by a lot of women. I kept by eyes averted and head bent as I stood outside the room, I knew any eye contact with so many giggly and confident girls would make me nervous. As soon as the door opened, my eyes sought hers and I don’t know how I was able to convey that there was a message from the other side. (I later realised that they had had a telephonic communication but for the time being I believed in telepathy)

Then I made up some lame excuse to get her out of the room with me and took her to the terrace where he was supposed to come. I don’t know why I was being trusted with this job. Was it a mere coincidence that they sought me? Couldn’t they ask the people who were closer to them to help? Or maybe everyone was being a tease. Not letting them meet.

I didn’t even ask. It wasn’t my thing to know.

While we waited for him on the terrace, I told her that I had spoken to him and he was completely smitten.

She laughed. The genuine laughter that comes out of sheer happiness. The laughter I had always been oblivious to. And then she said,

“I know. He is a sweetheart.”

“He is a lot like you. Open, up front, genuine….” I trailed off conscious of not letting my feelings peep out.

“He is….” she said fondly.

“Isn’t that the rule, opposites attract?”

“Attraction isn’t same as love, is it?”

“How would I know, I’m yet to figure out the difference.”

“Attraction is momentary, temporary. It definitely draws you towards a person. But love, it makes you accept them with all their flaws and perks; unconditionally. The criteria we set do not make sense when you are in love. The looks, the money, in fact even the so called personality traits that you’re so sure you need in your partner; they do not matter. You accept them with all their tiny quirks, annoying habits and love them for the beauty they exhibit in every little thing that they do…”

As these words left her, her eyes shone bright with adoration. How I wished they held this expression for me!!

“So you mean, love takes long?”

“Not necessarily. It is a matter of moments. Sometimes even without knowing that person completely you simply know that you wouldn’t back down from anything they may present with!”

“And when you know it is one sided?”

“Well, then you wait for the universe to give you your share of love, whenever and wherever it wishes you to!”

“So… you believe that there is a reservoir of love for every person in this universe? Then what about those you never receive any?”

“I’m sure that universe has reserved love for everyone. Its form and durability may vary.”

“But doesn’t everyone seek romantic love? Even if they receive tons in other forms, this one kind always leaves a void. In fact, this kind of love single headedly fills all the voids other forms of love may have left.”

“I don’t think so….”

I only smiled in response. It was easy for her to say this when she had that perfect guy and she was so perfect for that guy. They completed each other in every way, in fact, people like them who do not dwell on their insecurities or have social anxiety may not even be so aware of the lack of warmth in their life. It is easy for them to seek it, they only have to extend an arm, use that dazzling smile and the world revolves around them. It is people like me, who feel nervous and anxious all the time, who cannot say that they need this warmth, have the toughest time.

He had arrived. I gave them some privacy and volunteered to guard the door.

The rest of the evening was spent in recreating the conversation we had in my head, re-living that moment of solitude where we actually had significant content to talk about.

That night, I was sure that I had fallen for her and maybe if I had met her at a better time, I could’ve dreamed on. It was sad that I had developed this kind of intensity for someone in such a brief period who had no chance of being mine.

Next morning, I woke up with a headache. The lingering smell of henna was everywhere. It was strong enough to blow my head. She was busy all day applying ‘mehendi’ on all four limbs. It was tedious and I had made it a point that she ate from time to time. This was all I could do for her and I wanted to do everything I could to etch these few days in my memory forever. This was my first experience at love. It maybe one sided, it maybe impossible and unfathomable; but it was love and I was falling with acceleration.

All day, I kept ensuring that she had everything she may need. By evening, however, she disappeared. Everyone was too busy eating, dancing, gossiping or brewing their own romance that they actually forgot where the bride was. All the women who kept her surrounded were now busy in beautification of their own hands and I was the only one looking for her.

I took a chance and climbed up the water tank on the terrace. There she was.

Crying.

Why was she crying?

It felt like something broke within me when I saw tears in her eyes. At that moment, I knew I could do anything and everything in my power or beyond it to stop them.

I called her and she looked up. Unable to wipe her tears because the tips of her fingers were still wet with henna, she tried to wipe them with her sleeve.

I kneeled next to her and gently wiped her tears. I lifted her chin and asked with all the courage and gentleness I could muster, what was it that made her cry.

“Everything is going to change soon. I will be married. Nothing would be the same. I would leave this home, my parents and my sister all by themselves and I will care about someone else’s parents and siblings more than my own. And don’t you dare tell me that “things will remain the same at heart!” “You’re only a 2 hour drive away from your parents” and all that crap! THINGS ALWAYS CHANGE! Why did I agree for this in the first place? How could I be so selfish?”

I sat there in silence for a while, thinking of the right words to console her. It was the commonest feeling anyone was who was to leave his house would get. And hence, she was sick of the common replies people had in store whenever this came up.

Sometimes, people have to be honest instead of making every difficulty look fancy. Sometimes, that is all someone needs.

So I decided to be honest with her.

I settled down next to her flexing my knees and placing my hands on them. She had managed to stop her tears by now.

There was a moment of blissful silence. Something told me that this moment would never go away from my head.

“Have you stayed in a hostel?” I asked. I realised, I didn’t even know this about her.

“Yes, while I was pursuing my designing, I was staying in Pune for three years! That’s where I met him, in fact.”

“Did you share rooms with others?”

“Obviously!”

“Those girls you stayed with, they were not your family. God knows if you even liked them. But, didn’t you take care of them when they were sick? Did you not hold them when they cried? Did you not share your meals with them? Did you not notice when they were happy and asked why?”

“I did all of that. But your point is?” she was looking at me. I had all her attention and that made me slightly nervous. So I decided not to look into her eyes.

“While you were away from your family, your mother must’ve fallen sick in that time, your father must’ve needed you to get something, your sister may have needed help with her project. But at that time, you were responsible for taking care of your room mate because you were living with her! This is what happens. It is not just a marriage thing. Whoever you live with, or around becomes your responsibility and first priority and there is nothing wrong in that. Why do you think people say neighbours are your first relatives? Because no matter what they are always around AND responsible for your well-being. Did you staying in a hostel change your relationship with your mother? Did she start thinking that my daughter is no longer mine? No, right? Obviously your priorities will change because you’re living with different people, irrespective of the fact whether you’re related to them or no!”

“Why do you have to make so much sense?” she almost pouted.

“Because, that’s the truth. All those who say nothing will change are stupid. Things change. And it is the law of nature! People crib all the time, you know. They crib about change, they also crib about monotony. They crib about everything they have or don’t have. The thing is, we can never be satisfied! Now look at you, you have the love of your life, loving parents and parents-in-law, loving friends, siblings and you’re crying because you don’t have time to return all the love to everyone! Talk about gratefulness, woman!”

And this broke her into a fit of laughter! I felt like a superhero, turning her tears into laughter! A magician, indeed!

“Thank you, Arnav!” she said and grazed my nose with her wet henna hands. My name had never sounded so beautiful before, as it did from her tongue. I was so focussed on the sound of my name and her laughter that I forgot to avert my gaze or wipe my nose.

“Have you ever been in love?” she asked out of the blue.

“I guess!” I said, still unsure of the dizzy feeling she gave me!

“She’s one lucky girl!”

“She has no idea!”

With this, I got up and gave her a hand. I wondered how she climbed up stairs with her wet finger tips. She was weird. And Awesome.

When I saw my face in the mirror that night, the side of my nose was marked with henna. I thought of permanently tattooing that bit.

Don’t we all have stupid ideas in love?

The rest of the wedding didn’t present me with any more moments with her, but she always gave me a warm smile from across the room whenever I busied myself in some or the other activity. It was my reward for all the donkey-work I was so willingly doing. Apparently, my mother bagged a lot of prospects on that wedding because I was so shy and genuine and hard- working and sweet; but I turned them all down.

When she was finally seeing everyone off after the wedding, her tears still hurt like knives being stabbed in my chest. I stood afar, she probably didn’t even think about me at that time. But guess what, that didn’t hurt as much.

It took a while to get over her. A long while I would say.

I still never tell this story to anyone. Because it is hard to explain a love like that, which happens in an instance and stays forever. She is my fondest memory, my muse. Even if she has no idea, she will have someone who would always pray for her joy; because well, that is all I can do.

My life goes on, I have received the love this universe had in store for me, and it filled me and made me whole. The end of this story marks the beginning of that one, but it would be sheer injustice to tell that tale now. It is enough to know that I have embraced it, felt it and enjoyed all its beauty with complete involvement and bewitching intensity.

However, sometimes, even today, I touch the side of my nose where she gave me a temporary henna tattoo and smile at that fond memory; the first ever jitter, the first rush of adrenaline and the first ever rebellion of this heart that was wild enough to fall for the forbidden…

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