Translated By Priya Arun
She spoke with the excitement of a chirpy child. I could see that she was completely ecstatic. But somehow, I didn’t share the same enthusiasm. She did notice that I was calm, but she didn’t delve into it. “Hey! You’re looking off colour. Aha! I know! Upset that you are going to get hitched? Too bad honey, it’s just destined that way,” and she broke into peals of laughter.
“Okay! Got to go. Lots more to discuss with dad. I need to talk to him about your job. My sweetest cupcake. Buh-bye. Goodnight...oops...good morning,” she said, kissing me so hard that my lips hurt. She turned around and ran into her apartment.
I stood there, watching her as she disappeared into her apartment. This appeared to be a happy-ending but I wasn’t really happy. How could I go and live in the United States? Would I have to live with her dad? What about my dreams then? To marry someone who lives in the States, to live off her dad’s money, to have kids, to raise them there and fade into oblivion in a foreign land...this idea sounded bizarre. I couldn't imagine leading such a life. But how could I tell her this? Even if I did muster the courage to say it, her reaction was what seemed really scary.
My thoughts left me listless. Unable to wait any longer, I took off to Shraddha’s office earlier than planned. I was anxious and nervous. I killed my time with a cigarette while I waited. Contradictory thoughts clouded my head just like the smoke from my cigarette. “A lovely girl that you love so much and a cushy life in a country like America...would you forego all of that for just a dream?” said a voice from a corner of my mind. “Accepting this new life will only mean losing my identity in the process,” another, rather, meek voice responded, from a distant corner of my mind.
Shraddha and Meera walked in, with their faces beaming with pride and excitement. Meera shook my hand with gusto and congratulated me. I couldn’t even feel half the excitement that she expressed through that handshake. Shraddha snuggled close to me, her eyes sparkling.
“Shankar, I’ve spoken to dad. There’s a job waiting for you in America. Well, not just the job, everything is all set and ready, waiting for you and that includes me!” she said, batting her eyelids.
“Shraddha, I don’t think I can come to America with you,” I found my voice annoyingly feeble as I said this. I saw her face change colour. She was losing her temper.
“But why? What the hell are you going achieve here? You’re going to have the girl of your choice, truckloads of wealth, a cool life in America...what else do you need? Well, sharing the roof with your father-in-law... is that what you’re worried about? Rubbish! This just shows your chauvinistic and middle-class mentality. Do you even have an idea how much convincing I had to do to get a ‘yes’ from Dad?”
“Hey Shraddha, please don’t be mad at me? I’m sure you know me and my dreams very well by now. My dream is to direct films. I am only holding on to my job because I want to save up and get a strong footing. How do I drop all of that? Marriage...a new life in America...it’s all so sudden. You know what? Let’s get married and live here for another five years. I am sure to make a name for myself by then. Actually I’d love to visit America...yes, as a tourist but I don’t think I’d ever want to live there Shraddha,” I took her hand in mine.
She yanked her hand away.
“I knew it. You never were really in love with me. All you wanted is to have is a good time with me. Given an opportunity, you’d have used and just dropped me. You’ve just gone ahead and proved it all over again. Seriously. Would you say such things if your feelings for me were true?”
“Listen Shraddha. I think career is as important as relationships. It is true that I love you but love is not everything in life.”
She rolled her eyes and whined. “Oh man...What’s the point? You will first get an opening, get noticed, and then become a famous director and then? Will you be able to make any money at all? You can’t be sure of anything. You’re just taking a chance. On the other hand, just think. You can’t even dream of the kind of money, luxury and comfort that is waiting for you, if not for Shraddha Reddy’s love for you! Rejecting this kind of a life is as good as rejecting Shraddha herself.”
“Don’t be silly. We fell in love with each other because we really liked each other. In any case, how do you think I can snuff out my dreams and be happy?”
“Come on! Don’t tell me everyone does only the jobs they like doing! And they eventually find their peace, don’t they?”
“They might appear happy but I think only they know the kind of pain they go through. I don’t think I can ever put up such pretense.”
“Okay, let’s assume you don’t achieve your dreams. Then what?”
“I don’t want to give up even before I try. You know...at the end of the day, it won’t matter if I win or lose. What will make me happy is the knowledge that I would have really tried.”
“You’re just being difficult.”
“No, I’m just trying to make sense. Meera, you know me and my dreams well. Why don’t you tell her?” Until then, Meera was looking at both of us, not quite knowing what to say.
“True Shraddha. He has been weaving his dreams only around films. You know what? Here’s what I think. Both of you are still young. And marriage can wait. Why don’t you give it another five years? If he is able to achieve his dreams by then, that’ll be great. And for some reason, he isn’t able to, then, I think he should come and live with you in America. What say?”
“Total crap, those pipe dreams of his. Why would I want to marry a loser after waiting five long years? I don’t think even my dad would accept him then.”
“Why don’t you look at the positive outcome of it?”
“Just shut up, Meera. I think this is my life and my decisions are best left to me.” Ignoring Meera, she turned to me. “Now tell me your final decision Shankar.” She looked me in the eye and spoke slowly, “Will you or will you not settle down with me in America? Is it a yes or a no?”
I’d never met anybody like this before. How could she only think of herself all the time? How could she take decisions on my behalf even on such serious issues? Didn’t she realise life wasn’t that simple? I had a life too...I had my dreams, aspirations...Was money all that she could think of? It was going be difficult to live with such a person even in India, forget the USA. My thoughts were disturbed by own voice.
“NO,” I heard myself say.
“Fine then. That’s the end of our love story. We part as strangers. Goodbye.” Meera and I could just sit there, staring in disbelief as she left.