“Well dad,” Nirmal sighed, “I guess I’m done with her.”

He put the glass on the table and reached up to gently extract Neel’s hand from his shoulder. Neel complied, stepping back far enough to allow him to rise from his seat.

In their house, the kitchen was a fascinating place for carrying out chemical reactions in a controlled manner with the end result being the equivalent of having used the Philosophers stone transmuting lead to gold. Cooking was an art and Neel was a master in it. But being a successful architect he was left with no option but to hire a cook. Mutton Biryani was something that he’d love to cook for his wife himself. Neel’s wife Mala, an architect herself didn’t enjoy cooking. If given the choice of cooking or reading a book, the latter would have won every time. Saturday dinner was always made by Neel and it was Nirmal’s duty to clear the table or do the dishes with his mother. But this scene used to differ when Aanya, girlfriend and live-in partner of Nirmal accompanied him. She was a great cook, so on that very day Neel and she used to prepare dinner together. However, the responsibilities of Nirmal and his mother remained the same.

Aanya and Nirmal were dating for seven years but shifted together only the last year when both of them got transferred to Pune. Mala and Neel had developed a close bond with that girl and even started seeing her as a prospecting daughter in law. Aanya had lost her mother when she was very young. This made Mala get even more close to her as she also had lost her mother at a very tender age. Mala herself had insisted Aanya to call her mom.

But from last two months, both Aanya and Nirmal were bellyaching about gobs of compatibility issues. And this visit of Nirmal was to inform his father about broking off with Aanya.

“But you still love her ……”

“Love is nothing, Dad. Anyway, let me handle it.”

“Do you or anyone of your generation exactly know what love is?”

“Dad, its part of our life. And we fall in love and get out of it also.”

“Hmmm..”

“Where is mom?”

“She is in Chennai for a meeting ….will be back till tomorrow morning.”

“Good. If she was here it would have tough for me ….”

“Don’t worry …..I told her already. She was ok.”

Nirmal was shocked to see Aanya standing right behind him.

Neel hugged her and spoke in a soft voice.

“Your relationship with each other can adjourn but my relationship with you kiddo is abiding.”

“Yes, uncle. But I wonder why would have mom called me when she was not here.”

Everyone was clueless ….

“So what would you like to have Aanya …wine or your favourite cocktail prepared by me?”

She winced but tried to cover it with a fake smile.

“Anything, uncle.”

To avoid the awkward silence, Neel started the conversation.

“You know Nirmal and Aanya, for me, love is eternal.”

“Dad, there’s nothing like forever love.”

“I agree this time with Nirmal. It’s a part of your life, but not your life.”

“Hmmm…”

“Uncle, you never told us how you met mom?”

“I know, they were…”

Neel beckoned Nirmal to stop.

“You want to hear the story of Neel or the story of Neel and Mala?”

“????”

“Ok, I will start from the beginning. It was a small town in Bihar. It was an old town, far from any city that it had not been taken from any housing developments and shopping centres. The change was slow there.

Raina had been the most popular girl in the local high school. She was lively, bright, pretty and rich. But it was her innocence which made Neel fall for her. He never expected that Raina will ever notice him. But the feeling was mutual. They had two years together before they swept apart by the threat of being punished for loving a person from other caste and a different economic background. They parted ways never to meet again.

But, six years later, as a successful architect, Neel met Raina again. It was raining and Neel was in a hurry to return back to his hotel room. He was in Canada on a business trip.

He was about to enter the hotel when he saw her. Due to the heavy rain all morning, part of the parking of the hotel was waterlogged. At first, he saw her reflection in the still water of the ground and turned at once to face her. She was standing beside waterlogging, holding a faded umbrella, looking beautiful.

He could see the pain in her eyes. He felt that pain in his heart. His mouth was dry, his pulse racing in his throat.

“It’s been a long time.”

She was startled.

“Hello, Neel.” She said and then collapsed in his arms.

She was five months pregnant and her husband had abandoned her. He married her for dowry and left her in India. But last year she came here only to find out that her husband was married again with two kids. However, her husband sexually assaulted her and left her once he found out that she was pregnant. Interestingly nobody at home returned her calls. She was there to meet someone from Indian Embassy who can help her in going back to India.

Neel brought her back to India. Her husband was neither interested in her nor in the baby which she was carrying in her womb. Her parents were no longer alive and her brothers were not interested in taking her back. Time and love are the best healers. Neel had decided they both needed to get away from the disturbing past. So they shifted to Mumbai from New Delhi. They decided to get married once the baby was born. She was dreaming about her wedding every other day. But life had different plans for them.

He lost her again, at the operation theatre. She survived for one day after the operation and the last words on her lips were “WHAT LIES IN DESTINY

MORE THAN WE EXPECTED,

ONLY LOVE I DEMANDED

AND IN RETURN REPRIMANDED.”

The first time when Neel saw the baby, he realized that he lost his love and fell in love again. His life changed overnight. Now he was a father and his responsibilities had increased. He started working from home more often. And never left home unless it was something urgent. One day his meeting was scheduled with an architect, with whom he had to work on a project. But the nanny of the baby stuck somewhere and he was not able to reach there at the scheduled time.

When he was about to inform the client, he received a call on his phone.

“Hello, Neel Awasthi speaking.”

“Mr Neel, I guess you don’t have any respect for someone else’s time?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I am Mala Pradhan, the architect with whom your meeting was scheduled.”

“Sorry, ma’am. I can’t leave my son alone. His nanny is stuck somewhere. Sorry for the inconvenience caused to you.”

There were a few seconds of silence.

“No, I am sorry for being rude. Just tell me your address and I will be there. We could have our meeting there.”

“Listen, you don’t have to..”

“I insist!”

They spent days and weeks and months together. Both of them had never thought that they would start liking each other this much. The baby was binding them even more.

They never chose each other, it was as if one look was enough and then there was no turning back. They started sharing the responsibility of the baby. That baby was not from their flesh, nor of their bone or blood but he was their lifeline.

And on the first birthday of their baby, Mala proposed Neel.

“I never wanted to fall in love with you, not at all. But at some point, I saw you smiling at your son and holy shit I blew it. At that time, I knew that you are no ordinary lover, but a storm. I want both of you in my life. Marry me?”

“So.. Mala, you really think we can do this whole marriage thing?

Mala sighed and leaned her head against his chest, “I think we can have a great marriage. One you will want to run to, instead of run from.”

They got married the following month and named their son ‘Nirmal’ son of Neel, Raina, and Mala.

They decided that they will never have any other kid because they don’t think they would be able to love any other kid as they loved Nirmal.

“And kids, that’s how I met your mother.”

Nirmal and Aanya both were whacked by this sudden revelation.

When Nirmal was ten years old, his parents made him understand that family isn’t always about blood. It’s the people in your life who would do anything to see you smile and who love you, no matter what.

But he never knew about the story behind his birth.

“Dad..”

“Today your mother asked me to tell you our story. One of the most amazing feelings in the world is having someone fall in love with you. Don’t let that love go out of your life so amicably. Never be ashamed of how much you loved or how much you cared but the other person didn’t. Maybe his/her way of expressing love is different. Love completely, but most importantly, love naturally and don’t ever apologize for it. Kids, maybe both of you are just scared because for once someone actually wants to be with you. Falling in love is easy, staying in love is rare.”

They all sat in silence for a few minutes.

Aanya opened her mouth to say when Nirmal pulled her towards him and started speaking.

“I am being serious here. Aanya Singh, would you do me the honour of forgiving me again with my dad being a witness?”

Aanya pushed him gently while brushing her tears from her cheek.

“It’s not your fault, we both knew this. I am..”

“We don’t have to talk about that right now.”

“No, we do. I have already waited too long and almost missed my chance to say it. I hated myself for what I said to you. You proposed to me, and I obstinate you. My insecurities made me do that and it just broke my heart. I lied to you and you trusted me like always. But today I want to say I love you, Mr.Nirmal. I always have, but just too scared to accept it.

After today I realized that there are so many things in life to fear about than love. I don’t know how to be a wife and I can’t always promise to be the good one but I want to spend my rest of life with you trying to figure it out. If you still want me, let’s get married.”

“More than anything.” Nirmal hugged Aanya gently against him and pressed a soft kiss on her cheeks.

Neel left them alone in the room so that the truth of their words and beauty of the situation they’d just experienced fully sink in.

They all have acquired what they were longing for.. SOLACE.            

(The Beginning )

______________________________________________________