Heartstrings

Mukesh Kumar
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Read Time:11 Minute, 18 Second

I saw the ring today after all these years. I hadn’t seen it in ages. My heart skipped a
beat as a silent crescendo of emotions washed over it, leaving me short of breath even as
the world around me continued to function uninterrupted. I could hear a familiar tune
playing in my head once more—a song I’d not heard in years. Slowly, as I stared at the
gold ring, the present crumbled and the past peeked through.
‘In whose name shall I bill it?’ the jeweller asked, his eyes never leaving the computer
screen.
‘Mine … I mean, Roshan.’ Try as I might, I could not take my eyes off the ring. It held no
sparkling diamonds, rubies or intertwined swans. To anyone else, it was probably your runof-the-mill gold ring. But for me, it represented a year of my hostel allowance saved—on
account of skipped meals and taking xerox copies rather than buying the original texts. More
importantly, it represented feelings I’d held in my heart for too long. Involuntarily, a smile
passed my lips again as I saw the two letters carved into the gold: ‘M.R.’
M. Megha Balakrishnan. What can I tell you about her? We’d known each other for years.
It had all started innocuously enough with us being stuck in the same medical course. My
first impression of her was that she was just another snooty NRI brat. She, in turn, had found
me standoffish. In time, we both understood how wrong we were. Being assigned as each
other’s lab partners would prove to be the ice-breaker—we realized how alike we actually
were. Our initial aloofness had been nothing more than a common inability to make new
friends easily. The truth was, we were both naughty as mice with a wicked sense of humour.
Perhaps that, more than anything else, strengthened our friendship.
As the years passed by and life threw various hurdles our ways, we learnt to watch out
for each other. I could count on her to be my 3 a.m. wake-up call to study during our exams
just as she could count on me to stand up for her if anyone badmouthed her. Our assignments
were invariably carbon copies of each other’s papers. Bunking classes, making mnemonics
only the two of us could understand to remember drugs and classifications, tic-tac-toe
marathons on the table while the lecturer droned on about myopias and cataracts—this was
our life. In a world where two teenagers had been abruptly thrust from a fawning school life
into an unforgiving medical-college life of books, blood and diseases, we were each other’s
comfort zones—a place where we could be the people we once were without being judged.
We were the best of friends.
When did I fall in love? I don’t know. It’s hard to define the exact moment, really.
Sometimes, you just realize that the person you’ve been walking beside all these years
suddenly looks different—her natural charm is enhanced by the radiance of her personality.
You find yourself missing her jokes, her laughter and her voice—even if you’ve just spent
the day with her. You envision what life could be like: the two of you together—the posh
villa, the pet dog and cat who would grow up mimicking the love they see in their owners,
the holiday trips where you actually live the dream that travel brochures paint for everyone
… and the stolen kisses that would still promise a lifetime of love and trust. You see
yourselves growing old together. And it feels just right.
I guess, that’s how it was with me too. One fine day, I woke up and realized that all these
days the dream girl I was looking for was right beside me all along … I had just never
thought of her like that before.
The recent exams had been our last. And while we’d gone our separate ways for the
holidays, we would be returning to the college for our one-year internship together soon. We
had kept in touch via the phone sporadically over the month, but it just wasn’t the same.
As luck would have it, we both ended up clearing our exams. In fact, she topped the batch
in two subjects. And I was amongst the top five. Whoever said those who bunk classes
wouldn’t prosper had obviously never met us. As part of the celebrations, we decided to
have an afternoon out for ourselves the Sunday after we joined back. Just me and her … and
a heart dying to reveal itself.
‘Roshan. Yoohoo, Earth calling Roshan!’
I looked up. She looked beautiful. I know how silly it sounds, but sitting there, tired after
a long day, furiously attacking the ice cubes in her cold coffee with gusto as she searched
for the ideal spot below the air conditioner, she just looked beautiful. That was the only
thought that came to me.
She arched her eyebrows, reminding me that I had not yet responded.
‘Ya, Meg. I’m here!’ The ring in my pocket weighed a ton … as did my heart. Everything
had gone great up until now. The movie had been sufficiently romantic without being
melodramatic. Lunch had been skipped to devote more time to the usual post-movie
shopping ritual. After two hours of trekking across the length and breadth of the mall,
seeking my opinion on everything she tried on before vetoing it, we now sat at what we had
once labelled our own personal ancestral home—the familiar coffee shop. I watched her as
she leaned forward, her fork dipping into my Chocolate Fantasy cake, even as her eyes
stayed on me.
‘Megha?’ I ventured.
‘Hmm.’
‘I need to tell you something serious.’
She stared at me for a moment. ‘Actually, there’s something I need to tell you too.’
For the first time, I noticed a nervousness in her voice. Suddenly, there was an
awkwardness in her tone that I’d not seen in years—not since the time we had first been
paired together.
‘Sure, you go first.’
She stopped chewing as she pondered her words carefully. ‘This last month after the
exams, being at home, away from … well, it made me realize something. I guess … Damn, I
don’t even know what to say!’
‘It’s me, Meg. You can say anything you want.’
‘That’s just it, Rosh. Sometimes it’s so difficult to say these things to the people who
matter the most. Rosh … do you believe that you can spend your whole lifetime being with a
guy and then suddenly, one morning, everything is different? You find yourself looking at that
guy differently, noticing things about him you’d not seen before. Suddenly … you want to be
with him more and more. You miss him when he leaves; you wait to hear from him again.
You know?’
I nodded, my heart beating wildly within.
‘This past month being away … something changed for me, Rosh. The feeling was
probably there for a while, but I guess I just didn’t want to think about it while we were still
students. I don’t know how you’ll take it or how it’ll affect us, but I need to tell you. In fact,
I’ve been wanting to tell you ever since we came back. I didn’t want to do this over the
phone. I guess I just wanted to tell you face-to-face.’
As I watched her, I realized how true the saying was: the eyes really did reveal what the
heart wants to say. I could see it in her eyes—the trepidation of a girl in love—and I knew
in that moment that this was meant to be. This was what it had all been about. Destiny had
brought us together from different parts of the country, landing us in the same college, pitting
us against heartbreaks and group studies, across cultural programmes and dissection tables,
medical cases and go-karting races to this one moment—when we realized how incomplete
we were without each other.
I forced myself to let it play its course. I held her hand on the table. They were tiny, I
thought to myself. They were also trembling. In all these years, being right beside each
other, the truth was, we had never even held hands.
‘What is it? You and I, we’ve been through so much. Trust in me to understand what you
have to say.’
She looked into my eyes for a hint. She must have found what she was looking for,
because moments later, she smiled, a smile I’ll always remember till the day I have to leave
this world for another. I can see it even now when I close my eyes—a moment frozen in
time in the memory book of my heart.
‘Roshan, I’m in love with Rahul. We’re going to get married next year.’
I didn’t flinch.
I listened to her as she told me of the long conversations she had with our batchmate,
Rahul, during the holidays—the online chats, his proposal, the meeting of the families. The
engagement date. And God help me, I didn’t betray myself to her, not for a second. I laughed
at the right moments, consoled her as she spoke of the fears she had telling her parents and
cooed like old times as she giggled her way to the end of the story. Even the clichéd
watering eyes at that moment seemed so appropriate—a friend overjoyed for his best
friend’s happiness.
As she gushed and giggled, I watched the nervousness vanish and the familiar, confident
woman I loved reappear. And when it was all over, she waited for me. ‘Your turn. You had
something to say?’
I looked at her. This was Megha. I couldn’t lie to her. She’d see through me immediately.
We didn’t do the ‘oh-never-mind-forget-it’ routine. That wasn’t us. But what could I say to
her?
Two small hands enveloped my own. I looked up at her. That smile, never meant to be
mine. Unless …
‘Come on, Rosh. Trust in me to understand what you have to say.’
I saw in her eyes the love that shone and all that we’d shared together. I saw my love and
hers too and what we both stood to gain … and lose. And suddenly, everything seemed so
simple. I knew what I had to do.
I withdrew my hands from hers and reached into my pockets. I took out the little blue box
and placed it in front of her on the table. I opened the cover, revealing the gold ring with the
artistic ‘M and R’ forming two sides of a gorgeous heart.
She looked at it, her mouth agape. Time stopped, if only for the two of us, in that familiar
corner chair in this familiar coffee shop that had hosted us for years. She finally looked up
at me in puzzlement. I looked down at her hands and once more placed mine over them.
This was my moment.
‘I knew about you and Rahul, Megha. Do you really think you can keep things like this
from me? Come on, yaar. I had this made to give it to you as a present on your engagement,
but well … I guess this is as good a time as any.’
Her grin widened and I could see her eyes grow moist. She turned her palms over, held
my hands and squeezed them tightly.
‘Oh, Roshan … this is amazing. I love you.’
I’d like to think my voice didn’t crack as I finally revealed my heart that day. ‘I … I love
you too, Megha.’
She wiped away her tears. ‘Gosh. Look at us. People are staring at us. And this ring?
They’ll think you proposed to me. These guys in the cafe must be expecting us to hug and
kiss now!’
‘Perverted rascals … Pur-vur-ted ras-cala. Chee, chee,’ I said, accentuating the South in
my dialect. She giggled at the impression of a professor we both despised immensely.
‘I know. Pur-vur-ted ras-cala.’ She giggled. ‘Come. Let’s pay the bill and get out of here.
Rahul’s birthday’s coming up before the engagement and I need your help in finding him a
gift. Break’s over. It’s shopping time again.’
Picking up our shopping bags, we left the coffee shop that day; two hearts in love—one
heart freed over a cup of coffee, another destined to be hidden for ever.
Six years have passed since that day. Seeing the pictures of Rahul and Megha on
Facebook as I sit here waiting for my next patient to be shifted into the operation theatre,
I can only smile. Life would eventually find other ways to separate us—soon after her
marriage, she would move to a dif erent country with her husband and lose herself in her
new environment and lifestyle. I would find a way to lose myself too, not entirely
unintentionally, in the endless ocean of my postgraduate years and the new challenges
that the life of a surgeon brought. The promises of being friends forever would remain
what they always were—college promises scribbled in the sand. Over time, we’ve become
just one out of hundreds of friends in each other’s Facebook list. We are not strangers, I
know, but we can never be what we once were. What we could have been.
And yet, I still find solace in her smile. In her happiness that radiates through these
pictures, I find it easier to sleep at night. Because that was what I’d always wanted for
her—to be happy.
As for the familiar ring tied around the neck of their little girl, Deepika … well, it’s
fulfilling its promise even today. A promise of unconditional love.

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