The streets in Bangalore were noisy as usual. Groups of friends were loitering, hanging out in eateries. The road was bustling with vendors, horns, and loud laughs of the girls waiting at the bus stop. It was five in the evening and dark clouds had gathered, a typical day in Bangalore.
Amidst all the noise, Nisha’s mind was silent. She was a woman in her forties with worried wrinkles on her forehead. She had left her thin straight hair open and had worn a black saree with a black bindi between her brows. These streets reminded her of the best days of her life.
A young pretty girl, with open hair, was singing a Bollywood song with an umbrella in her hand. Her other girlfriends were clapping their hands rhythmically. Suddenly a pleasant male voice began singing in the chorus, she turned behind, “, she screamed with happiness and ran to him. They smiled at each other, she winked, and as he brushed his thick hair with his fingers. Then, All of a sudden it began to rain heavily. She threw her umbrella, stretched out her hands, and turned around. He laughed and came near her, bent down and carried her, while all her girlfriends giggled.
Her train of thoughts was disrupted as she heard the yells of another car driver, she had reached her daughter’s school, where she was an alumnus herself. It was their annual day, the school had been impressively decorated. She sat on a chair in the hall and tried to search for her old classmates, whose children might be studying in the same school. At a distance, she saw a familiar-looking bald man, tall and fit. He had a wise look and was rushing to get a good seat. He paced to the seat next to her, he was completely wet due to the rain. She turned and looked at him, scanning him all over. She had goosebumps all over her. Some melodious tune began ringing in her ears and those lovely flashbacks popped into her head in those few seconds. He in turn looked at her with captivation. He placed his palm on her warm trembling hand, gently lifted it, and planted a kiss. “You are still beautiful, just the way you looked on the day of your marriage”, he said.
They looked at each other, as if the whole world around them was still, it was just two of them and their love. He gazed at her as her hair flew in the cool breeze. Her eyes were deep and wet. He stretched his hand to touch her cheek.
She suddenly jerked and moved behind.
“ You came to my marriage?”, she asked with surprise.
“Oh sorry, forget that I ever mentioned it, is your child performing today and when did you move in here from Mumbai?” he inquired.
“Yes, my daughter is in a skit about the Chipko Movement. I just shifted a few months back, what about your child?”, she asked.
He replied softly, “ Nisha, I have no child”. Nisha started, “ then why did you c..”, “Good evening Everyone”, the anchor announced.
The crowd fell silent, and then the programs began. Parents were cheering with full enthusiasm, but the only thing Nisha could think about was how she felt when she used to be with him. She felt calm and comfortable even though every second with him was a thriller ride.
Nisha slowly turned her face to look at him, he was already looking at her from the corner of his eye she jerked and a chill went down her spine.
He broke the silence, “ I saw your movies, you did a good job.”
“No please Anant, I just did four movies, that too side roles. Like you said twenty years ago, I am irresponsible and don't have a commitment towards anything. Look at you, you look so satisfied and happy with life.”, she said with slight disappointment.
“ I may look happily settled Nisha, but I regret the things I have done”. He said.
“ Me too”, nodded Nisha, “ Choosing acting as a career, I shouldn't have done that”.
“Is that the only thing you regret Nee ?,” He asked, expecting the answer he wanted. She replied, “ yes, nothing else”, to his disappointment. He frowned and looked away.
There was silence again.
The same young girl was now trying out a red saree. She was extremely excited, she knew she looked gorgeous with the red lipstick. She had paired it with a black blouse with a deep back design. She had worn silver-colored earrings with hanging beads, and it looked ethereal. She practiced walking in a saree and in those pointed heels. She flipped her hair and posed in front of the mirror. It was the farewell of her high school that day and most importantly, her birthday. She wanted him to see her first. So she waited outside her Highschool gate, looking at students swarming in.
Anant interrupted her thoughts and said, “ Where is Prashant? How is he?”.
“I don't know the answers to your questions Anant, he may be behind some twenty-year-old chic. You were right again Anant, just like you said twenty years ago, Some people never change.”
“I am not always right Nisha, I have done things I regret”, replied Anant.
Nisha asked with surprise, “ What do you regret, Ani?”
“ Not listening to you when you came to give an explanation. You kept calling me, but I went away. However, being a doctor now, I have learned patience”
“ Ani, I was wearing a saree, and waited for you, for two hours. You then came with that girl, hmmm, Sushma. I was angry, I felt cheated, I saw her at your home the previous day and you people were... enjoying” replied Nisha.
“ You know right, we were planning for your birthday. That’s the reason why we were together. We used to study together also, Both of us were interested in medicine.” replied Anant.
Nisha questioned, “ Yes, I realized that later. Didn't you guys have an affair, after we broke up?”
Anant was shocked, “ What? I could never have an affair with her, didn't you know she is.., But who gave you this information?”
Who else, The Gossip girl and my best friend Akshara. How is she? I haven't met her since high school graduation.” asked Nisha.
The young girl’s eyes were puffy, her Kohl was smudged under her eyes. With a breaking voice, she shouted, “ Wait! Wait! Listen to me. I didn't know about it. Listen to me, don't go.” She knelt down and covered her face with her palm. He carried his bag and walked away. He didn't even turn around and look at the crying girl. All of a sudden another boy came and knelt down, “ he is never returning”, he said with a smile.
Anant snapped her out of her thoughts and said sadly, “ She died of Stomach cancer, Nee... ”
Nisha was shocked, she rested her head on her palms and said cryingly, “ Oh my god, I really feel so sorry for her. I am such a bad friend, I wasn't with her when she needed me the most. She helped me get through my toughest time, that is, after we broke up. I should have called up at least once, she could have called me too. I cannot believe this.”
Anant held her hand and spoke pacifically, “ Calm down Nisha, she didn't call you up because she hated you. You had insulted the love of her life in the letter you sent. ”
“ What? Which letter Ani? ” she asked with a surprise. All of a sudden a little girl came running up to her and hugged her, “ Mom! Mom! Did you like my performance” she asked.
“Yes baby, you acted so well”, Nisha replied and kissed her on her cheek. “ Mom, who is a he? Is he Ani?” she asked. “What? How do you know him? I never told you about him”, asked Nisha. “ I saw that you were carving a name on the desk with your nail mom, it spelled Ani”, replied her daughter. Nisha hid her face with her palms out of embarrassment. She said, “ Ananta, Go sit next to your friend and watch the program, now”. Anant laughed, “ Oh, so your daughter’s name is Ananta, why did you choose that name?”. Nisha replied with irritation, “ That was the best name I could think of, that's it.”
Anant enquired, “ Didn't Prashant have a problem with this name? ”. “He doesn't know her name. He left as soon as I got pregnant”, replied Nisha. Anant asked, “ Did you really fall in love with Prashant just because he plays guitar, is that the reason why you left me?”.
Nisha was appalled, “ Who gave you this wrong information Ani?”. Anant replied, “ Your best friend, Akshara.”
Nisha said, “ No, no, it was Akshara who set me up with him. She told me that you had an affair with Sushma and the only way to win you back was by making you jealous.”
“That’s a ghastly accusation and a nasty plan”, Anant berated. “ However, I never accepted her plan and came to your house to sort it out. That's when I saw you and Sushma. Even after that, I still clung on to hope. The next day, on the farewell, I waited for you, I wanted to dance with you. Then I saw you with Sushma again, I was devastated and at the spur of the moment, I asked Prashant to dance with me.” explained Nisha.
Anant replied, “ Sushma and I were searching for you, then I saw you dance with Prashant. You looked so enchanting with the red saree. Even though I was a bit shocked I walked up to you. All of a sudden he saw me. He went, fetched his guitar, and sang your favorite song for you. You looked so happy and when he asked you if you would date him, you accepted without a second thought. I knew you liked Bollywood style romance and grand gestures, but I never thought you would fall for a playboy. You broke my heart that day Nee, you knew how much I hated him because of his character and his mannerisms. He did that just to irk me. That's when Akshara told me about your affair with him, while you were still dating me.”
Nisha’s jaw dropped with astonishment, “ Cheating you? Ani, you have to believe me I never liked him when I was with you, I didn't like his stupid guitar skills too. Why was Akshara Playing on both sides?”.
Anant replied with disappointment, “ I can't believe I married a snake. ”
“Oh, So she was your wife, now I get it,” replied Nisha sarcastically.
“ After you sent that letter, filled with all the things you hated about me and that you chose Prashant over me, I was depressed. Akshara helped me get over it, we then became friends, though I never liked her before. ”
“ Which letter Ani, I never sent you a letter. Even if we broke up, I would never insult or hurt you. After the farewell, when Prashant and I began dating I came to know through my parents that you were planning my Birthday in a Dhaba. You had gone to ask them my favorite flavor of the cake. The next moment I came running to you, I didn't mind even pleading you to give me a second chance. You just walked away Ani, you left me crying.”
Anant had tears in his eyes, he said, “ Even after what happened in the farewell, I waited for you to come back. Just when I hoped to get a letter in which you would tell me that you chose me over Prashanth I got a letter full of hatred. However, I know now that you didn't send that. I was hurt by that letter but never for a second did I believe it was you. When you moved to Mumbai with Prashant, I was forced to believe it. Couldn't you have come to me once again? You knew I had a little bit of a temper but you even knew that I loved you the most”
Nisha replied, “ How could I Ani? You sent a letter that you were happy with Sushma, and you didn't want me to disturb you again. All I cared about was your happiness, Ani. That's when I moved to Mumbai to start a career in acting. Prashant moved to Mumbai and joined a band. I didn't regret not marrying you because I thought you are happy without me.”
“ What? Sushma? We could never have been in a relationship. I did not send that letter Nee, I was waiting for you, all these years. I just love the way you flash your dimples when you smile, the way you wrinkle your nose when you are angry, the way you bite your lip when you are tense. I loved the way you used to pull your hair back and tie a knot, with the band between your teeth. I loved it when you used to roll your eyes when I teased you. I loved the way you would pout on seeing my dog. I just love being around you Nisha. I can never ever be happy if you are not around me too. Nee, okay forget it. I am happy everything is cleared, I feel so satisfied, to know that you love me, even today.” mocked Anant.
Nisha laughed with teary eyes, “ What? I never told you that”. “ You did carve my name on the desk, isn't it?” asked Anant nudging her shoulders with his elbow. She laughed and wiped her tears. “ I was just bored. You didn't tell me what you are doing here even though you don't have a kid Ani”, Nisha asked. “ I have been coming here every year on annual days for the last twenty years, even for those five years when I was married to Akshara because you told me that even after you finish schooling you would attend the annuals days. ”
“ Yes, I said that because we first began dating on the annual day of 1997. Those three years were the best years of my life Ani. ” saying so Nisha wrapped her hands around his elbow. She continued, “ Isn't twenty years a long time to have hope, Ani?”.
He replied with a Bollywood dialogue, “ Umeed par hi toh Duniya kayam hai” and giggled. It means, “Hope is what keeps the world going”.
“ I was such a Bollywood lover, I expected everything to be filmy and musical”. Nisha laughed and continued, “ you however would keep pulling me back to reality. Real-life is actually such a contrast to movies”.
Anant looked at her smilingly and brushed her hair away from her face, he leaned forward and looked at her lips.
All of a sudden the audience got up and began to move out. Nisha and Anant got up too. Nisha went to her daughter. When she came back Anant was standing with a very familiar-looking woman. She was thin and fit and was wearing a formal dress. “ Sushma! , or should I say, Dr. Sushma, how are you?” Nisha shrieked with excitement. She ran to her and hugged her. Anant added, “ She is an oncologist, and was Akshara’s doctor”. Sushma said, “ It's so lovely to see you both together. When Akshara came to the hospital once, just before dying she told me to ask you both to forgive her. She wanted me to tell you both only after her death. The guilt was eating her away. She told me to tell you that she was the one who wrote those letters”. Anant looked at Nisha and giggled, “ We kinda figured that out. She was an insane woman but let’s not talk ill of the dead”. Just then another girl walked towards them, she didn't look Indian, she had a little girl walking next to her. Sushma said, “ Anant, Nisha she is Anna, she is my wife, and that's our daughter. I met her in the US. Let’s meet up on Sunday for lunch at home". Nisha nodded with excitement. Nisha and Anant took leave and walked to the parking area. He pulled out a keychain on which was carved 'A.N'. She looked at it and giggled, " You still have it?". He bent down and whispered in her ear " You and all your souvenirs are precious to me, always and forever".
The young girl was wearing her new black dress and was practicing acting in an empty classroom, she wanted to get selected for a drama in the auditions. He was sitting on the desk with his biology book open and was listening to her dialogues. She then closed the book and pulled him. They stood on the dais in the class and began dancing to the song he was singing. They held each other's hands and began moving their shoulders in a circular manner. After dancing they burst into laughter and hugged each other. Even after twenty years, his breath felt so familiar.
Nisha asked, “ Ani do you think Akshara was doing the right thing, in a way? She did like you before... Didn't she? She asked you out also, but you told her that you liked me. So she planned all of this to be with you.”
Anant replied, “ No Nee, true love includes sacrifice. What you did, when you got the letter telling you to leave me alone shows that you truly loved me. Akshara was selfish. She hurt both me and you, knowing very well that I was happy with you.”
Anant smilingly added, “ Nee, I was wrong, real-life can be as musical and magical as the movies, you just need the right person, who shares your vibe. As told by Sharukh Khan, If your story doesn't have a happy ending, then it isn't the end, Kyunki picture abhi...baaki hai mere dost. You know what it means right?"
Nisha hugged him and replied, “ Yes, this movie isn't over yet”.