Ravi stood there at the back of the group, waiting for the door to be opened from within. Dressed in a dapper black suit, he looked every bit as suave and handsome, as he was described to be. Tall, lean and muscular in physique; accomplished and successful at work he was the true definition of the “perfect man”.
Indeed, it wasn’t for nothing that he had been ranked 8th on the list of “10 Most Eligible Bachelors” in the latest issue of Architect + Designer Digest. Not that he concurred; in his mind, he was very much taken.
He looked around casually, noting every flaw in the building’s construction. From outside, the residential block had looked well maintained – with its sufficient car parking, a small fountain in the main porch and ample playing area for the kids. His sharp mind and observant eye had even noted that the number of lifts was in correct proportion to the number of letterboxes in the basement. The number of car parking spaces was in excess, though. Obviously to account for the fact that each house these days had multiple car owners, he figured.
The people standing ahead of him were the ones he had been collaborating with, on a real estate project, for quite a while now. The group comprised of his business associates – owner of a furnishings showroom, the largest and best in the city; a renowned interior designer and his painter sister; a real estate and construction mogul and his socialite wife. These were the people who had invited him to dinner, at yet another friend’s house. He had been homesick and exhausted. Staying alone in a new city for 12 months straight; working non-stop day and night at a stretch had taken its toll. It had had its benefits too. The project they all had been slogging over, had begun to take visible shape. Construction was almost over, and the process of fitments and fixtures was soon to start. They were ahead of schedule and with ample budget to spare, too. The mall would surely be ready well ahead of time; for its inauguration in mid-December. The real estate company had wanted to open the mall before Valentine’s Day. Ravi had suggested it to be completed well before Christmas, to be able to cash in on the fervor of festive season and New Year. They were doing well, exactly as per plan, Ravi thought. He could now afford to breathe a bit and take things a little easy. His associates and now friends had been perceptive enough to realize he needed the break and kind enough to not leave him alone on the occasion of Diwali – when people working across the country would return home to enjoy the festival with their families. “It would be good for you to join us for Diwali,” Nayan, the pot-bellied interior designer had suggested.
Home. Family. The two words brought up images of his mother – a self-made woman who had managed to keep together the family and household, after his father died. He had just been 12 then, and his younger brother 8. The youngest one, his sister, was yet to be born. At the hospital that fateful night, while standing in the doorway of his father’s hospital room, something had changed in him. He had immediately taken on the role of the responsible son and elder brother. Running errands, fetching medicines, coordinating with the nurses and doctors; even protectively shielding little Rahul’s eyes as their father breathed his last. Despite desperate attempts by the doctors and nurses, Manish Verma could not be revived. He had already suffered a cardiac arrest earlier that day; and his body was too weak from the trauma of the accident, they had explained to his mother. An 8-months pregnant Mrs. Verma had not had time to even grieve over her husband’s death or even pursue the other driver, who had crashed into her husband’s vehicle. The one who had been drunk and had run away from the scene, police and emergency respondents had informed her. Financial resources and Legal fees required to track and prosecute him was not something they could afford, right now. With 2 kids to take care of and another on the way, they needed an immediate source of income. Despite some savings in the bank, new funds would have to be arranged to cover immediate and future expenses – Food, Bills, School fees- the list was long she knew. Mrs. Verma became resolute. She did not have the luxury that time could offer. She had no time to cry – for herself, or for her kids. She had no time to come to terms with her loss, or that of her kids. She could not waste time thinking that their only daughter, who was yet to come into the world, would never know her father. She had more pressing matters at hand. She could no longer remain a stay-at-home mother. And Ravi too, had learnt some important lessons. Never to drink and drive, he had told himself.
Ravi had now become the oldest male in the family – a role he had taken on very seriously for the next 15 years. His previously dismal grades shot up overnight, his frequent tussles with Rahul ceased immediately. They had had a very fulfilling life, over the years; and despite the limited finances, his mother had managed quite well. He too had continued to be a pillar of support and strength for her. Friends and family had played a major role in helping them live a normal life. Following his father’s illustrious footsteps, he had pursued a degree in architecture and upon graduation revived his father’s firm.
Now, a successful architect just like his father, he’d taken the firm to newer heights. His proud mother was back to being a stay-at-home mom, though she would sometimes still agree to take on home décor projects that fancied her interest and creativity.
Soon after college, Ravi had professed his love to Anaisha Manik, his best friend from school. They had had a great relationship – one filled with love and laughter, mutual respect and understanding; until 5 years ago, when she suddenly broke up with him and moved away from Delhi. He had searched for her everywhere. Aradhana Aunty and Mahesh Uncle, Anaisha’s parents, had simply refused to entertain him. “Forget her,” they had said, much to his shock and dismay. He had even visited Anaisha’s grandparents’ home in Chandigarh; and even though sympathetic, they too had claimed ignorance and instead urged him to move on. But, Ravi was not one to give up so easily. He kept up his search efforts; stayed in touch with their common friends, as well as her ex-colleagues. Someone would see her somewhere or get to know something and pass on the information to him, he reasoned. He even visited her parents regularly, in the hope that someday they would give in and tell him about her whereabouts. All he had gathered from them was that it had been her own decision to leave him and disappear. His repeated visits and pleadings had softened them and they had inadvertently let that out. Ravi was confused, hurt and angry. Why would she do this? Where was she now? They had refused to answer any further questions.
Somehow, he had gotten news of her being in Bangalore. A mutual friend had spotted her from a distance, he was told. They had been across the road from each other, and hence unable to talk, Manisha had explained to him apologetically. An emotional confrontation with the Maniks’ led them to admit to Anaisha having settled in Bangalore, but they refused to divulge any further information beyond that. Not willing to relent, Ravi had decided to make regular weekend trips to Bangalore in order to search for her.
It was during one of these trips, that he had met Jayesh Sarthakan, Managing Director at Green World Realty, a reputed residential real estate firm. They were on the lookout for an ‘out-of-town’ architect with experience in commercial projects, for their newest venture – an upcoming high-end shopping mall. Jayesh wasn’t familiar with Ravi’s work. A quick background and referral check apprised him of Ravi’s credentials and various accolades. Jayesh discovered that Ravi was well known in their industry, not just for his out-of-the-box designs but also for his stellar reputation of completing projects well in time. Now, Green World Realty was convinced of his expertise and were keen to have him on-board. They had only one condition – that Ravi stay in Bangalore for atleast 18 months, during the construction of the mall; which he was more than happy to agree to. They had already agreed to all of his conditions. The finer details were worked out, and Ravi’s firm was signed on as the architectural and design consultant.
Secretly pleased at the opportunity to stay in Bangalore for an extended period of time while looking for Anaisha, he resolved to relentlessly search or her, even if it meant walking through every nook and cranny; road and by-lane of Bangalore; he’d thought determinedly.
That was about a year ago, now coming to an end; the mall being almost complete. He had still not found her. All efforts had led to naught.
Ravi had been desolate and heart-broken; unable to fathom the reasons and accept the reality of her leaving him, without as much as an explanation.
A loud burst of crackers from somewhere jolted him back to the present. “Coming,” he heard a female voice call out from the other side.
A sudden blast of wind gave him shivers. A feeling of uneasiness came over him. He attributed it to the smoke of the crackers and anxious at the thought that he would be perceived as an uninvited guest. Worried that he was walking into a stranger’s house, for an intimate Diwali dinner, he asked, “I hope this friend of yours is expecting me over. Did anyone even tell her how many of us are coming?”
“Ofcourse, Yaar. I told her, we are bringing a friend over,” said Nayan.
“I spoke to her in the morning, she said you’re more than welcome for this party,” said Meeta, Jayesh’s wife, as she adjusted the length of her dupatta.
“You are just too anti-social, you need to get out more,” admonished Jayesh, kindly.
“Infact, you know what… you both are single, you would be perfect for each other.” Rati, Nayan’s sister suggested childishly while waving her gold-sequined clutch at him.
Rolling his eyes, Ravi was about to say something, when he heard the click of the door latch from inside.
In front of them stood a tall, young and attractive woman. Dressed elegantly, in a pale violet sleeveless salwar kameez, she looked stunningly beautiful with her hair swept to one side. All his anger, frustration and the pain of a lost love evaporated away. He watched rapt, as she greeted everyone smilingly while they entered the elegantly decorated house in a single file. Half-turned towards the others, chatting and exchanging pleasantries, she had not seen him yet. Mixed emotions rushed through him, as the group slowly inched forward. Ravi stood rooted to the spot while the first of them who had entered had already crossed the doorway and were moving in towards the living room.
He closely observed and noted everything – the friendly banter between them, her sweet, soft voice, the fall of her hair on one side, the stray strands that had come loose on the other, her tinkling laughter, her earrings dangling with the tilt of her head, her thick, black eyelashes, her sparkling eyes and easy smile, the rosy flush of her cheek. Even the way she lifted her finger to brush away the short strands that fell over her eyes. He noted it all. He slowly stepped forward, his eyes still fixed on her – unable to believe the sight before him or his luck. His search could now be abandoned.
This was the last place he had expected to find love. Ravi was speechless. He had not expected to come here and find someone like her. He had come here, expecting the hosts to be much older, probably closer to Jayesh in age since they were friends, and assumedly of the same age. Even Dipin, the furniture showroom owner, the youngest of the four was soon turning 45.
He had certainly not expected to come here – the venue of a last minute dinner party – and fall in love, despite resisting it for so long.
And yet, here he was – standing face-to-face with her. This was the woman of his dreams. She wasn’t a day older than 28. He knew that, because, he knew her. After all, he had spent the last 5 years, looking for her.
This is Part I of a series of short stories. Read Part II here – Memories.