Neerav and Snehali were walking towards the exit of the Phoenix Mall in Mumbai after watching a movie together when Neerav stopped in his tracks. He was looking at someone entering the mall.
He told Snehali who was standing beside him “I think I saw a friend I know, wait here ok.” and then he ran towards the person.
Snehali looked at Neerav running, the way his hair was bouncing and the way he was looking at a person in front of him trying to call out his name. She could see the quality that always attracted her towards him, how he always carried himself with ease and exuded the warmth of a person who cared about others.
She saw him finally catching up with the person he had been trying to call. The man turned and was pleasantly surprised to see Neerav. They shook hands as soon as they met. He introduced Neerav to the girl with him, Neerav shook her hand too and then told them something and pointed towards Snehali. They all started walking towards Snehali.
Snehali felt a bit awkward standing there watching them coming to her, she was not sure if she should walk towards them too.
When they finally met. Neerav introduced them to Snehali putting his arms around her shoulders “This is Snehali, my girlfriend”.
It was Neerav’s childhood friend Manas with whom he had studied in the same School. Their parents also knew each other well. They had tried to stay in touch after school but college life and other things had kept them busy and they had drifted apart. It was only via his parents that Neerav got any news about Manas.
Manas was with his girlfriend Nisha at that time. He was working in Mumbai in an animation studio. Nisha had been with him since college days. They were dating for about 5 years.
Manas and Nisha were about to go to a Cafe and they invited Neerav and Snehali too.
When they were seated comfortably, Manas asked Snehali, “So, who proposed to whom in your case?”
Snehali just looked at Neerav confused. She was not sure if she should say anything.
Manas looked like a man who loved to laugh. He continued “Don’t worry about him, I have known him since childhood.” He put a hand around Neerav smiling widely, mischief clear in his eyes.
As if understanding Snehali’s confusion, Neerav said shrugging “I did. Big deal!”
“Well, just so that you know. He was a flirt at school.” Manas said as if he was the most responsible person ever.
Neerav turned and looked at him stunned “What?”
Snehali looked equally shocked.
Manas laughed. Neerav then said to Snehali warning her, “Don’t believe anything he says, he is just good at making up stories.”
Manas acted being serious and put up both his hands, “Ok ok, now only the truth. You don’t know Snehali, how many girls he let go just because he had decided never to propose. Girls kept on dropping the hints and he kept on ignoring them till one day a girl proposed him. I thought finally he will have a girlfriend and was going to go to a temple to offer my thanks to God. But you know what he did?”
Snehali did not know anything about this, all she knew was Neerav was a very shy person at the time they had met and slowly he had opened up to her. She shook her head again looking at Neerav. Neerav was looking everywhere else but at the table they were sitting on.
“He turned her down.”
“Oh, poor girl!” Snehali acted sad though she did not feel even a bit of it.
Manas resumed with a sigh, “Well, that is not the sad part.”
Neerav’s head was bent low now and no one could see his face. Snehali had never seen him like this, she could not help smiling, “Then, what is?”
“After that, no girl approached him ever. It was like he had become a taboo.”
It was clear this was not something Neerav wanted to share with anyone and added: “It really did not impact me at all.”
Manas was shaking his head and feigned being sad “Clearly, that made him the nerd he is today.”
Nisha chided him. “Come on now Manas, Neerav is already embarrassed. Go and get the order.”
Manas stood up to place their orders asking everyone what they will be having. Neerav joined him.
Manas and Neerav had a lot to catch up on and Manas told about him and Nisha as well.
It was the expression on Manas’s face that did not seem right when he said: “Yes, we have been dating for a long while and are planning to get married.”
Neerav felt excited at the thought but he did not see the same excitement on Manas’s face.
“If you two are planning marriage, shouldn’t you be looking happy and excited, bro?”, Neerav asked Manas.
“Just that my parents are kind of in the way, I never thought my parents would have an issue with a love marriage.”
“Oh! Is there anything I can do? Should I try talking to aunty?” Manas’s parents were old family friends and lived nearby.
“No, I have been trying to persuade them since about 2 years but they don’t seem to budge, they are thinking I will give up someday. It is so ironical, they supported me in all my endeavours and now it’s like they don’t understand me.”
“That is weird. What are you planning to do?”
“I am not sure yet, but if marriage is what is needed, it will be Nisha.”
Neerav patted his shoulder and said “I am confident whatever decision you take, it would be the right one. As far as I know, Uncle and Aunty will eventually agree.”
“I hope so.”
They had gone back to their seats after placing the orders.
While two old friends were catching up there was a new bond that was starting to form.
Nisha was the one to break the ice “Don’t mind Manas, He was just trying to lighten the mood, I am sure.”
“Yes, of course. In fact, I am glad he talked about Neerav’s childhood days.”
So, how long have you two been dating?” Nisha asked her.
“It has just been about 6 months. But we knew each other for 2 years before that.”
“Wow, you two do look like smitten by each other. Any plans on getting married?” Nisha asked with a grin on her face.
“Thanks, you two look very comfortable with each other. About marriage, We have not discussed yet, but the way things are going, hopefully.” Snehali had replied with a smile and twinkle in her eyes.
“Great, but speaking from my experience, dating period is the best time. You two should enjoy it till the time you can. When you start involving parents, things start changing. Too many opinions if you ask me.” Nisha seemed to shudder while saying all this.
“Yes, I know. The different perspectives.” Snehali quoted the last three words using her fingers in the air.
She continued after a pause “So when are you guys planning to get married?”
“We have been planning for two years, I hope soon. It seems like a big hurdle to cross.”
Snehali sensed she was not willing to divulge any more information than that.
“I hope and wish you guys cross this hurdle soon successfully,” Snehali said with a smile showing genuine care.
“I hope so too.” Nisha was beginning to like her.
The four of them had a great time together and parted with the promise of meeting again. It was not only Manas and Neerav that exchanged their numbers, Snehali and Nisha did too. They promised to go out on some girls only outing together as well.
It had been about a month since Neerav and Snehali had met Manas and Nisha. Snehali was wrapping up her work in Mumbai and packing her stuff to move back to Delhi.
Neerav was busy in his work and had been unable to go to Mumbai for the last 2 weekends.
It was Friday night and Snehali was chatting with Neerav on whatsapp and also packing up some stuff.
“The amount of work that I am doing, I am soon going to turn into a Zombie.” Snehali received this text from Neerav.
“How much time you have?”
“Considering I have not slept properly this whole week, anytime now.”
“Before you turn into a Zombie, just want you to know I love you.”
They both were laughing. And Neerav continued with his work while Snehali continued with her packing.
Neerav loved these moments when he could talk to Snehali about anything at all and feel refreshed.
Snehali loved the fact that Neerav always talked to her even if he was stressed. Even if it was for a couple of minutes. She had heard of men becoming unresponsive specially when they were stressed and Snehali was glad that at least now such was not the case.
When Neerav came that Saturday, Snehali gifted him a Zombie figurine. And there was a note written on the bottom “Zombie or not, I love you a lot.”
That Saturday evening, they also had a party to attend. Manas and Nisha were throwing a reception party post their marriage registration 2 days ago.
Snehali and Neerav were sitting in the backseat of the cab all dressed up. Snehali was wearing a royal blue saree with golden border, she had paired it with an intricately embroidered full sleeve Golden blouse with a deep neck. Her hair were left open with a middle parting and she had put light makeup. Neerav was wearing a white shirt and black pant that looked well on his lean and muscular body structure.
Neerav was just looking at her and marvelling at her beauty and her simplicity. “You look beautiful.” he told Snehali looking in her eyes.
“You already said that Neerav.” Snehali said embarrassed.
She continued after a pause
“Manas must be feeling bad that he can’t share this happiness with their parents.”, Neerav knew this was not a casual conversation and not knowing what to say was something he was experiencing for the first time with Snehali.
He finally decided on what to say “Yes, he was worried that this could happen when we met a month ago.”
“Is anyone coming from his family at all?”
“I think his brothers should be there. Lets see who we meet.”
“Did you talk to your parents about Manas? What was their reaction?”
Neerav did not know what to say at that moment. He had not talked to his parents about Manas. He was worried about their reaction. One thing he knew, he was certain about Snehali. He could not imagine a life without her. But he was not sure how his parents were going to react to this. They were quite supportive all throughout but they were also people who worried about society sometimes. Neerav was not able to decide how this topic should be approached with them. He was lost in thought.
“Mmm” Snehali had her hands around his arm and now Neerav had kept his palm over her fingers as if to make sure she was there.
“Will they agree for our marriage?”
Was Snehali able to read his thoughts? Neerav had felt a fear take shape inside himself but he held onto her hand tighter and had nodded his head.
“You know, since the time I got to know about Manas and Nisha, I have been thinking. I want our parents to be included in our marriage. I just want that we put our best efforts to make it possible.”
Neerav had reassured her, “Yes, we will.”
Snehali had felt happy and hugged him from the side fiercely. She kept her head on his shoulder sideways and let out a deep sigh.
“Yes?” She was staring straight ahead while her head was on his shoulder.
“Don’t start beating me up but isn’t there one thing that needs to be done before we start talking about marriage?”
“Umm, I might be wrong but I think one of us needs to propose for marriage first right?” Neerav mentioned innocently. He continued “I mean, do we know we are ready?”
Snehali felt her cheeks burn and she had turned red. She felt more embarrassed than she looked. She spluttered “Oh ye, yes, you… you.. you are right. How can I be so presumptuous! And please no pressure Haan!”
Snehali felt she was talking too much and thought it best to stop talking. She just shifted away from Neerav and started looking outside the window.
Next she heard a loud guffaw from Neerav.
“Caught you, and you thought I could not pull pranks on you!”
He was laughing but Snehali did not turn to look at him. He felt something was wrong and placed his hand on her shoulder. He saw her use the front of her index finger to dab the area around her eyes and then look at him with red eyes and the red nose. She was trying to give him a smile.
“I never could have guessed.” she said in a nasal voice.
“Oh shit! You are crying. No Snehali, that was not…”
Snehali did not let him finish his sentence and kept her
hand on his lips. “It’s ok. The fact is I was being presumptuous. I should not have assumed.” She gave him a weak smile.
“Oh no no. No no. No! I did not want it to turn up like this.”
Snehali gave him a smile but Neerav also saw that she had just stifled a sob.
Neerav put his arms around her such that she was now resting her head on his chest and whispered in her ears “I am sorry”. He took his other hand and held his ear.
“It’s ok. Seriously!” she said pulling his arm down away from his ears.
Neerav took out his white handkerchief from his pocket and gave it to Snehali.
Snehali took it and started dabbing at her eyes. Snehali felt something small slip from inside the folds of the handkerchief and fall onto her lap. She looked at it surprised, it was a solitaire ring. She picked it up and moved her head back to look at Neerav
He said to her with wet eyes that were fixed on Snehali’s face “Will you marry me Snehali?”
Snehali put her head back on his shoulder and punched him on his chest with the hand that also had the ring “Ow! ok ok, will you make me your punch bag for life?” Neerav said laughing.
Snehali gave him the ring and said “Only if you improve the standard of your pranks.”
Neerav nodded solemnly and made her wear the ring.
After making sure Snehali was fine, he said “You know, the fact that you don’t like my sense of humour has hurt me more than your punches.”
Snehali hit him again in the same spot, this time harder.
“Now?” Snehali asked her acting angry but failing to do so.
Neerav nodded “The punch hurts more.” And tightened his grip around her.