“You will find your answers here”, he angrily threw the paper on her desk.
“Saahil, why don’t you just calm down”, she tried to pacify the young man who was staring her down.
“You have got to be kidding me”, he started pacing around her studio.
“Just sit down please”, she held his hand.
“Let me go”, he snapped at her and pulled away.
“Ok come here”, she opened her arms as an invitation to the young man.
He didn’t move and just stared at her. Not seeing any movement from him she went up to him and hugged him.
“Calm down”, she told him again.
“This is not helping”, he said still being held awkwardly in the hug.
“Ok fine, I will let you go”, she let him go and stepped back from him.
“I have questions Bethany and you have got the answers”, he said very tersely. His hands were in his pockets controlling the nervous twitching of his fingers. His shoulders had squared up as if he was ready for a confrontation. His words were sharp and his eyes skeptical. He didn’t exude the warmth that Bethany had witnessed once upon a time.
“Saahil, I don’t know what to say”, she replied sitting down in her chair in a defeated manner.
“You do know what the papers have printed right”, he asked her in an accusing tone.
“No, I don’t read that paper”, she refused and leaned back in her chair.
“Ok let me read it out loud for you”, Saahil angrily picked up the paper and started reading it out loud, “Bethany Hill seems to be besotted with this new woman in her life. Although the identity of the woman is a mystery it is murmured that the woman has turned Bethany Hill’s life upside down. The one time glamorous photographer has now turned to philanthropic photography and sources say that it is all because of this woman. Bethany has been showing her photo in all her latest shows without revealing the face. It looks like love has finally caught up with one Ms Hill.”
He threw the paper in front of her again.
Bethany looked at it and saw the article that Saahil had read from.
He was right. The paper was carrying a photograph of Bethany with a loosely written piece that looked like someone’s opinion about her personal life.
“Saahil this is cheap paparazzi”, she pinched the bridge of her nose. She could feel a headache building deep within her.
“I don’t care”, he growled.
“I know you are upset Saahil but I don’t control what other people write about me”, she tried explaining.
“Is it true”, he asked her point blank.
“You can’t be serious”, she laughed off his question.
“I am. Is it true”, he asked again leaning dangerously close to her.
“You know man you need to step back right now”, Benjamin who had been a silent spectator till now decided to intervene.
“You stay out of it. This has nothing to do with you”, Saahil threatened him with a pointed finger.
“No I am not staying out of it and this has everything to do with me. You can’t just walk in here accusing Bethany of just about any nonsense”, Benjamin stood between him and Bethany now.
“This is not nonsense that we are talking about here. This is my wife that is being trolled here in the media”, Saahil’s decibel increased as did his frustration.
“And this is my friend here that you are misbehaving with”, Benjamin shot back.
“Tell your boy toy to step back”, Saahil told Bethany again.
“Benji, please at least you stay calm”, Bethany placed a loving hand on the agitated guy’s shoulder.
Benjamin relaxed visibly. He nodded and stepped back again.
“Saahil, first of all why didn’t you tell me you were in US”, she questioned now.
“I never told you? This is crazy”, Saahil couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “I called you so many times but I was told that you were busy and didn’t have time for me. When Adah called you a few days back she was told to stay away from you. Is this how you handle communications”, he was upset.
“I never received any of your messages”, Bethany could not believe what she was hearing.
“Ask your man here. He told me that you didn’t have time for me. And he is the one who asked Adah to stay away from you”, Saahil pointed at Benjamin.
“Benji is this true”, Bethany asked him.
“Yes it is”, Benjamin admitted without hesitance.
“Why didn’t you tell me Saahil had called? And what the hell did you tell Adah”, she was furious with him.
“I asked her to stay away from you. But I had my reasons”, Benji confessed.
“What reasons”, her voice thundered in the room.
“Can’t you see what people are talking about you? Don’t you see why this man is here? They are trolling you Beth. And this man is not here to sort things out with you. He is here because he wants to know the truth about his wife. And no matter what truth you tell him, he will always defend his wife’s honor. He will always blame you for seduction”, Benjamin tried to show Bethany his side of the story.
“Oh my God, there is no seduction”, she pulled at her hair in frustration.
“Benji at least you have faith in me”, she pleaded to her friend. “You know me. You know I would never break up a couple. I would never shatter a home. You know I am not that kind of a person.”
“B, I know that but even I have had my doubts”, Benjamin decided it was time to be completely honest with the photographer now.
“Bethany, I need to know the truth”, Saahil interrupted.
“There is no truth in these reports Saahil”, she explained.
“I will ask you this once and for all. Are you in love with Adah”, he asked her point blank. She had no option but to be honest with him and herself.
“No, I am not”, she accepted. “I have never been in love with your wife.”
“I don’t know what to say now”, Saahil murmured.
“Why don’t you sit down first”, Bethany suggested.
He looked at her for a minute and then sat down. He looked defeated and lost.
“I came to US on a business trip. I have been here for a few days during which I did try to reach you. Unfortunately you never got any of my messages. Then Adah called you and we were asked to stay away. We kept on wondering what we had done to you. While here I had been reading a lot of stuff about you and your show Footprints in the magazines. They were all saying how it was a departure from your regular style. And then today morning I opened the arts section in the paper and found this piece. It got me thinking. Was it true? Were you avoiding us because of your feelings? And then I also saw some of Adah’s pictures being used in your shows. I didn’t like what I read and what I saw. So I decided to confront you”, Saahil explained his behavior.
“And that is why you came barging to our studio”, Benjamin added.
“I couldn’t control myself. I had to talk to you anyhow”, Saahil looked at Bethany.
“I understand Saahil”, the photographer tried to pacify the agitated man.
“To be honest, I don’t want Adah’s name being maligned Bethany. I know it’s not what you intend. But I don’t want her to face the flak. And I am not saying this because she is my wife. I am saying this because she is a good human and nobody has a right to point fingers at her”, Saahil said.
“You trust her, don’t you”, Bethany gave him a knowing smile.
“Yes I trust her. I have known her for a long time and I know she will always be honest with me”, Saahil said confidently.
“Good to know that you trust her so much. Never lose your faith in her. She loves you very much and will never do anything wrong by you. You are the most important person in her life Saahil and she loves you with all her heart and soul”, Bethany said.
“So what about this”, Saahil asked pointing at the newspaper.
“I know this is upsetting and I am really sorry that you had to go through this. I never intended for something like this to happen to you or Adah. I feel guilty. But you need to understand that paparazzi is brutally selfish. They will publish just about anything about anybody to set the cash registers rolling. They do not care what happens to someone’s personal life or how much stress they cause”, she admitted.
“I don’t know how to handle this. I don’t want this to go out of hand”, Saahil voiced his concern.
“We will think of something”, she tried to give him some hope.
“You will find your answers here”, she told her as she held her hand and dragged her ahead.
“Hmm I can smell the sea”, the photographer inhaled deeply.
“Me too”, Saahil added as the trio trudged ahead on foot.
Soon they found themselves standing in ferry line.
“The line looks long”, Bethany commented.
“You ladies wait here. I will be back”, Saahil went off leaving the two ladies in line.
“This place is good”, Bethany asked the other woman.
“Trust me, its life changing”, Adah replied.
This was the last leg of their trip. They were at the southernmost tip of the Indian land and now they were planning to take the ferry to the last piece of land. It was 8:00 am in the morning and they were standing in queue for the tickets.
“How much time will it take”, Bethany asked her.
“Not long, here are the tickets”, Saahil came up from behind and surprised them.
“How the hell did you get the tickets before us”, Bethany asked looking surprised.
“I have got connections ma’am”, Saahil mock curtsied.
“My my you are a very well connected man”, Bethany joked.
“Let’s go ladies”, he pulled both of them out of the queue and pushed them towards the waiting ferry.
After a short ferry ride they found themselves staring at a piece of rock that had a temple and a huge statute standing mighty tall.
“Wow”, Bethany whispered standing at the bottom of the long stairs that led inside the temple.
The doorway of the temple was finely sculpted with strong pillars gracing it. The top structure of the doorway stood against the clear blue sky.
The stairway resembled a royal stairway that led to majesty. The sheer vastness of it was overwhelming.
“Come on let’s go”, Saahil came after depositing their footwear in the shoe racks created beside the stairs.
“We go up barefooted”, Bethany asked them.
“Yes Beth. This is a place that has religious as well as spiritual importance. So we go barefooted here”, Adah said.
“Ok if you say so”, she adjusted her red scarf and set foot on the first step.
“Wait a minute”, Saahil stopped them.
“What happened”, Bethany asked.
“This is your first step at the place that brought spiritual revolution in the country. I need a photo here”, Saahil said and focused his camera on her.
Bethany smiled and he clicked a picture. By now he had picked up a few tricks from her and his photography skills were improving.
He was finding almost every possible excuse to click photos of the two ladies.
“Come now Saahil, we don’t want to be stranded here for too long”, Adah reminded him.
“Coming honey”, he put the cap back on his camera and started climbing the stairs.
“Welcome to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial’, Adah smiled at Bethany as the photographer started her journey upwards.
“Tell me more about this place”, she finally told Adah once they were done walking around the Vivekananda Mandapam and Shripada Mandapam.
“How do I describe this place? What should I call it? Should I term it as a tourist place or should I call it a spiritual place”, Adah started. “Talking of it geographically I will say that we are at the southernmost tip of India. We are 500 meters off the mainland. It is said that Swami Vivekananda swam to this rock and meditated here. He attained enlightenment on this rock. He saw the spiritual purpose of life and became a man above the ordinary being. Today this place is visited by tourists from all across the world”, she added.
“This place is really awesome. I mean no matter where I look all I see is beauty”, she was in awe of what she was seeing.
“Here let me show you something”, Adah pulled her along with him closer to the barricades.
They stood there for a minute before a wave crashed on it. The duo felt the spray of the wave hit their face and the photographer shrieked.
“Ehhhhhhh”, she giggled like a young girl.
“Steady, don’t rush around”, Adah held her.
Another wave hit and once again they felt the spray.
“Ehhhhhhh”, she shrieked again and laughed.
“Now come here”, she held her again and took her to another less crowded spot.
“Where are we going”, Bethany asked with excitement laced voice.
“I want you to experience something”, Adah told her as she came up to a spot. “Now stand here and look out from here”, she told the photographer.
Beth looked around and was left overwhelmed. She was standing close to the end of the rock and was surrounded with sea on three sides. The gushing waves of the sea were scary enough to leave her speechless. But she also felt very small. In front of the vastness of the sea and the sheer power of nature in its full glory she felt small. She realized that all her glory and success and fame didn’t mean anything at all here. She was too small and unimportant. In the larger scheme of things in life she hardly played a role.
“Close your eyes now and feel this place around you”, Adah said.
Bethany closed her eyes and focused her senses on feeling. She was overcome with a feeling so indescribable that she immediately opened her eyes.
“What happened”, Adah asked her.
“Nothing”, she lied, unable to understand what was happening to her.
“Then close your eyes and feel”, Adah placed her palms on her eyes softly.
This time Bethany was prepared for what was about to hit her. It was as if she was seeing light for the first time. She started introspecting about her life and her purpose. She didn’t have the power of the waves to keep crashing against rocks and ultimately shatter them. She didn’t have the ferocity of a storm that could uproot lives within seconds. She didn’t have the strength of the rocks that could bear the attacks of water and wind for years together. She didn’t have the stability of land to support anybody. She didn’t have gushing of wind to make people sense her presence. Who was she? What was she? Just a woman who was luckier than a few others. But what was she doing with this luck of hers? Was she even adding value to anything or anybody? She didn’t know.
She felt worthless but she also saw whole new possibilities in front of her. She knew she didn’t have to meditate here to find purpose of life. She had already found a new meaning to existence and she wanted to explore it. She was thrilled and scared.
She walked back silently to a more safer place looking dazed.
“You okay”, Saahil asked looking at her.
“I guess I am”, she stuttered.
“You look a little off”, he observed.
“Yeah no I am fine. It’s just the wind”, she swallowed hard.
“You sure”, he asked once again.
“Yeah yeah, don’t worry about me”, she smiled at him more confidently now.
“You like this place”, he asked looking around.
“I love this place”, she answered.
“Remember I had told you that by the time our trip ends you will fall in love with India”, Saahil said referring back to their first meeting at Snaps and how he ended up inviting her to join them on their trip.
“You were right. This country is truly transformational”, Bethany agreed. “Thank you so much for showing me so many wonderful places”, she thanked him.
“It was a pleasure. It’s just that I am a bit sad”, he ducked his head.
“Why”, she lowered her head to be able to look him in the eye.
“This was the last destination on our itinerary. Tomorrow we go back and you fly away”, he told her.
“But was this trip not supposed to end”, Bethany felt the tinge of pain herself.
“It was. But we had such a lovely time with you. Once you are back in your world, I don’t know if you will even remember us”, he was pointing out the obvious.
“That’s not possible. You two have become close friends of mine and I would love to stay in touch with you”, she was being honest now.
“Yeah”, his face lit up.
“Yeah”, she held his hand. “I would be blessed to have you two as my friends.”
“Here you go”, he clicked a candid picture and ran off leaving her behind to contemplate what had just happened and what had just been pointed out.
She pondered over it. Saahil was right. The trip was coming to end and she needed to go back now. But she was going back with a new perspective and a new purpose. She knew her decision would not be accepted easily but she was going to do it anyway.
She knew she was going to miss Saahil’s boyish enthusiasm and Adah’s pearls of wisdom. But she knew this was all that she could take from the woman. She had found her muse in Adah and it was now a matter of letting that inspiration drive her work. It was time she let her muse fully dominate her creative world.
She looked back and saw Adah sitting down staring at the sea. She knew that the woman was thinking. She looked at her for a few silent minutes and then pulled out her camera. Not able to control herself she clicked a picture of the woman deep in contemplation. The shot was captured in such a way that it didn’t show Adah’s face. But it had her silhouette. She didn’t need the face to remind her of the person or to depict the person’s emotions. Everything was said in that one shot. And yet so much was being left unsaid.
Bethany knew that this was the shot that she had been waiting for all along. She knew this photograph was special and will feature in all her shows. She knew she would never in life be able to have a show again without this photo being a part of it. It was her way of drawing inspiration and also thanking this woman for changing her life once and for all.