Bittersweet Symphony

Mukesh Kumar
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Read Time:15 Minute, 27 Second

The first time I saw Ishita, she was wearing black. Draped elegantly in a chiffon sari, she
flitted around the hall like an exotic butterfly, smiling and conversing with a multitude of
wedding guests. I noticed the elegantly cut blouse she was wearing, backless and daring.
The curve of her back beckoned me and I realized that I found her seriously attractive. Very
disturbingly so.
A sudden move beside me made me turn. Kajal had just plonked herself next to me on the
sofa.
‘Enjoying yourself, love?’ I nodded and raised my glass. No, I was not having fun. Being
stuck in a boring wedding watching the bride and groom amidst their show of forceful
splendour was not my idea of an ideal Friday, but Kajal had dragged me to this. ‘Think of it
as research, my love,’she said. ‘After all, yours is in less than three months!’ Kajal had no
idea that my smile hid the nausea which had just bubbled up inside. My stomach felt like I
was on a roller coaster, one which was picking up speed at every turn. Ah, but I digress.
Inevitably, I found myself being introduced to Ishita in a matter of minutes. ‘She’s just
completed her masters in law from London, you guys have so much in common!’ Kajal
gushed before moving away to mingle and leaving us to warily explore each other. As Ishita
and I sized each other up, awkwardly making small talk, I wondered how I could sneak out
early without seeming rude.
‘Let’s ditch this party, I’m bored.’ I almost fell off the sofa. Was Ishita a mind reader or a
lifesaver? Frankly I didn’t care. ‘Let’s go,’ I turned to her. Kajal could fend for herself, I
was absolutely fed up.
Within minutes we had stealthily made our exit and were climbing into Ishita’s car. She
glanced warmly at me. ‘What time do you need to get home?’
‘Whenever,’ I replied. Ever since my Akht with Tushar, my parents seemed to care less
and less about what time I eventually made it home. As far as they were concerned, their
time of worrying and distressing was over.
‘Great,’ Ishita smiled. ‘Let’s have a nightcap before I drop you off then.’
As we shared a pot of coffee at the Westin, I soon found out that Ishita and I did indeed
have plenty in common. We both abhorred artificial personalities and plastic smiles. We
both loved reading horror fiction and watching comedy movies, we both shared a mutual
respect and love for sushi and, last but not the least, we were both finding it difficult to
‘adjust’ now that we were back to Dhaka after spending years abroad studying.
By the time Ishita dropped me back home, it was way past two in the morning. We
exchanged numbers before I got out of the car and, as I lay on my bed with the covers pulled
up to my chin, I found myself going to sleep with a smile on my face after a long time. The
morning, upon awakening, I found a text from Ishita waiting for me on my phone: Good
morning gorgeous. How are you today? Fancy meeting up?
Excited at prospect of seeing her so soon again, I sat and composed a message replying to
her text, even before I made my way to the bathroom to brush my teeth.
And so, the texting began …
It’s hard to determine the exact moment when I started falling for Ishita, the exact moment
when my feelings crossed the platonic borderline threshold that all friends share mutually.
Was it the first time she gave me the most endearing look when I had fallen asleep in her car
and she had woken me up? Or the first time I felt a tinge of jealousy when she sat next to a
very attractive guy? Did it happen during the hundreds of texts we sent each other every
day? Or maybe the first time she invited me to her place and introduced me to her family?
I didn’t know which of these was the right answer and frankly, I didn’t care. All I knew
was that I was falling for Ishita. Hard. We were attending all the numerous social events
together now. I would wake up every morning to a text on my phone from her, and every day
would seem beautiful. She would pick me up and we would head out, exploring different
areas of Dhaka and sharing our thoughts on every subject, from music and literature to
politics and world peace. We would talk for hours on the phone every night and I remember
feeling that I had finally met the one person who understood and accepted me completely.
I can never forget the first time we shared a kiss. Ishita had picked me up from work and
we were on our way to Ichi, our recently discovered sushi hangout which had become a
mandatory weekly outing for both of us. As we inched forward in the ridiculous Dhaka
traffic, the radio played soft romantic songs in the background and I contentedly sipped from
my water bottle, as Ishita and I shared warm smiles.
‘I wish I was that bottle.’
I almost choked. What? Turning to her, I raised my eyebrows questioningly.
‘I can’t help it,’ Ishita laughed. ‘All I can say is that the bottle is very lucky right now. It
has the pleasure of your lips, something which I am deprived off.’
Before I could even completely grasp what Ishita meant, she had leaned forward and
suddenly her lips were on mine. The radio played ‘Dil samhal jaa zaara, phir mohabbat
karna chala hain tu (Steady yourself, heart, you’re on your way to falling in love again),’ in
the background. Sensations and emotions exploded within me. I had been kissed before, but
not like this. Never like this. I felt like I was drowning and the only thing keeping me
anchored was Ishita’s hold over me.
An insistent tapping brought us back to the present. ‘Apa, beli phooler mala niben?
(Would you like some jasmine garlands?)’ As we both broke away, breathless, we turned to
see the street hawker now staring open mouthed at us, his jasmine garlands forgotten.
Undoubtedly he would have some very interesting stories for his friends tonight. The light
turned green and we sped away, both grinning at each other like love-struck teenagers.
That night after Ishita dropped me home, I plugged my Ipod’s earphones into my ears and
danced till I was breathless. As I finally collapsed into bed, exhausted and exulted, I
checked my phone and found a text from her which accelerated my heartbeat.
‘Dil samhal jaa zaara, phir mohabbat karna chala hain tu …’
I loved dressing up for her, even though it was completely unnecessary. No matter what I
wore, Ishita always made me feel like the most beautiful girl in the world. When those dark
eyes looked deep into mine, I would often stop mid-sentence, unsure of what I was about to
say next, my mind utterly and completely blank. It was almost like we were a couple, except
that the outside world interpreted our budding relationship as a sign of friendship and
female solidarity.
I know you’re thinking that this can’t possibly be true, how can things move so fast?
Maybe it was just infatuation? With days rushing past so swiftly, the final date of my
wedding ominously came closer every single day. But isn’t it always how things go, how
life-changing events happen when you least expect them?
A month before my wedding, Ishita picked me up from work, as was customary, and we
both headed towards Gulshan. As the car sped through the familiar Dhaka landmarks, I
recognized that we were heading towards Baridhara, a spot where we had spent many
evenings together, chatting and kissing, getting the requisite privacy that no other place in
Dhaka provided. These diplomatic residential areas had their benefits; as long as you
looked the part of sophistication and elegance, no one stopped you or even dared to check
up on you inside the intimidating darkly tinted windows.
Ishita silently and efficiently parked in our favourite spot, turned off the ignition and
turned to me. She seemed to be searching for the right words and I waited breathlessly, not
really sure I would like what I was about to hear. After what seemed like an eternity, Ishita
finally took a deep breath and started to speak. ‘I can’t do this any more,’she said. My heart
missed a beat. ‘Do what?’ I asked her with a cheerful smile, deliberately attempting to keep
the atmosphere light.
Ishita exhaled sharply. ‘I can’t see you any more,’she said. ‘You’re getting married in
less than a month. For God’s sake, you’re already legally married! In a month you’ll be
heading to someone else’s house, you’ll be spending your days with him. You’ll be sleeping
with him every night! You will belong to him in every sense imaginable—legally,
religiously and socially! How do you think that makes me feel?’
I was starting to have trouble breathing. Ishita’s words seemed to float right over me; my
mind was refusing to see reason, refusing to let her go. You can’t leave me, I won’t let you.
Taking a deep breath, I weighed my next few words. ‘I will still belong to you wholly in
my mind, you know that,’ I whispered. ‘Things will not really change. I will still be yours
and you will still have me.’ I love you, I screamed silently in my mind.
My carefully chosen words seemed to fall on deaf ears; she was getting increasingly
agitated by the minute. ‘No, Raina, things will change. Will you be able to come out and
meet me on half an hour’s notice every time I call you? Will you be able to stay out with me
till two in the morning? Will you be able to answer your phone after midnight when I want
to talk for a couple of hours before heading to bed? No, you won’t. So please don’t tell me
that things are not really going to change, as I know better!’
I was speechless. We had never talked about this before. I knew I was falling deeply in
love and I knew that Ishita loved me too, but I could never grasp the extent of her feelings.
Whenever she told me she loved me it was always in a very light manner, and I always had
the feeling that I loved Ishita a thousand times more than she loved me. I love you, my heart
whispered again.
‘You never told me you felt so strongly,’ I stammered. Ishita gave me a look of pure
exasperation and I immediately realized that I was being silly. ‘Right,’ I muttered to myself.
She did not have to tell me; ours was a most unconventional relationship, words were not
necessary between us. We sat silently, each of us lost in our own worlds. Finally Ishita
started the ignition and we turned towards Gulshan.
I turned to look at her silent profile as she drove wordlessly. My beautiful Ishita—so full
of life, so full of love.
‘Come to London with me, Raina,’she suddenly said.
I blinked in confusion. I knew she was heading to London for a short trip to take care of
some family business, but she was leaving a couple of days before my wedding and would
be staying abroad for a couple of months.
Ishita looked at me again, sideways. ‘I’m serious, Raina,’she said. ‘Come with me, let’s
just run away together.’
Run away, run away … my heartbeat accelerated. But didn’t that just happen in the
movies? No one I knew had ever run away before. Could I really do that?
Why not?
I looked at Ishita, trying to assess whether she was serious. She met my gaze squarely,
steely determination in her eyes.
I will follow you to the ends of the Earth, my soul whispered.
Yet, just as I was about to tell her the same, my mother’s innocent face flashed before my
eyes. The words I so desperately wanted to speak out suddenly lodged themselves in my
throat. My parents’ love, their trust, their faith … the consequences of my fleeing the country
were unimaginable; all the preparations were going ahead at full steam, all the invitations
were in the post, relatives abroad were making their way back to Dhaka after decades. Was
I brave enough to take the step?
I never got the chance to find out.
In the next instant Ishita gave me one of her cheerful smiles and floored the accelerator.
We did not speak of running away again.
That night I went back home and waited for Ishita to call. When she did, we talked about
everything, everything except what had transpired between us that evening. By some
unspoken agreement, neither of us mentioned it.
I went to sleep feeling lonely, frustrated and unfulfilled.
It was Wednesday evening and I was waiting for Ishita at Hotbrew Café. Ishita would be
leaving the next day and we both wanted to simply spend our last evening together, as none
of us were sure about what the future held for us.
An hour, two coffees and a plateful of peanut-butter cookies later, I was tired and crabby
and just about to leave, when Ishita finally walked in. As I waved her to the table, I couldn’t
help wondering what had kept her so long. However, as usual, I didn’t push. Ishita had a
tendency to get very defensive if I started asking questions.
I also couldn’t help noticing that her eyes were bloodshot. She had been crying and
drinking, I could smell it on her breath. Leaning across the table, I reached for her hand.
Usually warm and soft, it felt cold and clammy. Something was definitely wrong.
‘What’s the matter?’ I asked gently.
Ishita didn’t answer. Minutes passed. We sat in silence.
After fifteen minutes had roughly elapsed, Ishita finally spoke up. ‘I love you,’she
whispered.
‘I love you too. So very much.’
‘Please don’t get married.’
Her words hit me like a blow. My wedding was in less than three days and she was
asking me to back off now? I sat speechless, in shock. ‘What?’ I managed to croak.
‘Please don’t get married.’
For months we had been dating, growing closer and closer, falling more and more in love
with every passing day, and she chose to drop this bombshell on me now? When my
wedding was in less than three days?
‘You know I can’t escape it,’ I whispered. ‘It’s too late.’
Ishita shook her head vehemently. ‘It’s never too late. You can. Just tell your parents you
don’t want to get married. Please, I need you. Just be with me. You know you can do it.’
Could I? My heart soared with the thought. Just Ishita and I, being completely free and
enamoured with each other; we could be so happy. And then my heart sank. This couldn’t
happen. Relatives from all over the world had already flown in, the hall was paid for in
full, the event management crew and the caterers had been working together for months, the
wedding invitations had been distributed personally all over the country just a couple of
weeks ago!
Roughly five thousand guests had been invited to the wedding; I dreaded to imagine the
phone calls cancelling the event. Why, oh why, did Ishita wait till the last minute to ask me
to walk away from my wedding? Or was this just another cruel joke?
In the last few months that I had come to know her well, I had begun to realize that she
had a penchant for stirring up excitement. Ishita did have a thing for drama. Maybe this was
just another one? A misguided attempt to ‘test’ my love?
I shook my head. ‘It’s too late,’ I repeated. ‘Give me a year?’ I whispered.
‘A year? What happens in a year? Did I miss something?’
I shook my head. ‘If you really do love me, give me a year. Have faith in me. Things
would have calmed down by then, and I would be able to end this travesty of a marriage.’
‘You want me to wait around for you for a year? An entire year?’
‘One year—that’s all I’m asking.’ I nodded. ‘Have faith in me.’
‘You won’t be able to,’ Ishita challenged me.
I smiled inwardly. Ishita had always witnessed the soft side of me. She had no idea how
ruthlessly determined I could be when I set my mind to something. ‘One year,’ I repeated. ‘I
believe in us.’
After what felt like eternity, Ishita nodded. ‘One year,’she replied. ‘I love you. I believe
in us too.’ She grasped my hand firmly.
That night, when Ishita dropped me home, we exchanged goodbyes the way we always
did. ‘Kiss me,’she challenged me in the car in front of my gate, whilst the guard held the
door open, a bored expression on his face. I stuck my tongue out at her. If I knew then what I
know now, I would have kissed her, guard and society be damned.
‘Call me tomorrow, before you leave?’
‘You know I will,’she promised.
The last time I saw Ishita, she was wearing black. Draped elegantly in a chiffon sari, she
flitted around the hall like an exotic butterfly, smiling and conversing with a multitude of
party guests. Only this time I was not admiring her elegantly cut blouse or the smooth curve
of her back.
I was too busy dying a thousand deaths every time she flashed her beautiful smile.
At the end of the day it was Ishita who didn’t have either the guts or the courage to go
through with the relationship, to go through with ‘us’. Funny, she always said that I was the
one who lacked the necessary conviction.
I remembered weeks of waiting for her to get back from her trip abroad. I remember the
distant attitude that she had adopted, her aggressive comebacks which were triggered by the
simplest questions I asked her. I remembered the nights I had spent crying over the loss of
our beautiful relationship.
Score: one for society, nil for us. Game over.
As I lay in bed that night, with Tushar snoring gently beside me and my tears to keep me
company, I mourned the loss of the Raina who used to be full of life. I mourned the loss of
the dreams and hopes we had cherished. I mourned the loss of beautiful nights under the
stars, on a nameless road in Baridhara where we exchanged kisses while the crickets sang.
And, my eyes focused on the streetlamp light ray that shone through my open window, I
said goodbye forever to the love of my life; I said goodbye to Ishita.

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