Snigdha was preparing the solutions for the prefinal practical examinations the next day. Suddenly her mobile rang. She picked it up to hear her mother’s panicked voice on the other end. “Mini, Sameer is in danger.” This one statement was enough to make her go completely numb with fear. She asked in a dry voice, “What do you mean?”
Srestha replied, “He went to the PGK Factory today and an hour ago a fire broke out there. None of us can reach Sameer on his phone. Your dad and Sameer’s dad have gone there to look for him.”
Snigdha couldn’t keep standing any more. She had to sit and clutch the table in front of her for support before she could say anything. Her voice sounded completely hollow when she asked her mother, “Are you sure he was there?”
“Yes. We talked to his boss. Sameer definitely went there today.”
Snigdha squeezed her eyes shut as she felt raw, mind-numbing fear grip her entire being. She had never been more scared in her life. “Mom, are you at Sameer’s place? I’m coming there.”
Srestha said, “Yes, Rimsha and I are waiting for you.”
Snigdha disconnected the phone, but couldn’t make herself move. Everything had suddenly stopped moving around her. The lab assistant came in just then and saw her sitting like a statue. Before he could ask Snigdha anything, she got up, picked up her bag, and left without any explanations. She had to believe Sameer was safe. She quickly got out of the college and headed towards her car. The driver came running when he saw Snigdha coming out of the college so early. Snigdha told him to take her to the Sinhas’ house.
On the way to Sameer’s place, whenever she passed a temple, she prayed with all her might for Sameer’s safety. Her tears were becoming harder and harder to control. But she was determined not to shed a single tear. She was afraid of bringing bad luck for Sameer by crying unnecessarily. She had always been a religious person, and right then she had to trust that God wouldn’t punish a good person like Sameer. She continued calling Sameer, but couldn’t get through to him.
She ran inside once her car reached the Sinhas’ house. Rimsha and Srestha were sitting in the hall with ashen faces. Singdha reached them and asked, “Where is dad? Have you been able to contact Sameer?”
Srestha said, “The news reporter says they haven’t spotted any survivors yet. They are still looking.” Her voice shook as she relayed this information. Rimsha looked as if she was beyond speech.
Snigdha swayed on the spot. The defeated look on her mother’s face sapped all the hope in her. She headed towards the kitchen for some privacy, completely blank, her legs feeling wobbly. She went and stood there, staring unseeingly at the floor. She had stood on that exact spot with Sameer the other day when she had come so close to kissing him. She had felt so alive, so ecstatic in his presence. She remembered the way Sameer’s eyes had made her feel that day. Was she never going to see that adorable face again? Could she really live without that gorgeous smile now? She knew the answer then. She had fallen in love with Sameer. But fate was again snatching her love from her, brutally.
As the silence around her deepened, she felt she was drowning in her grief. Sameer had promised not to hurt her ever. How she wished Sameer could keep that promise. Nobody kept their promises to her. This thought made her feel very angry on Sameer. Why did he have to go there today? Suddenly, brimming with determination, she left the kitchen with a newfound hope in her heart and went up to her mother. She informed her that she would check in Sameer’s office once. When nobody stopped her, she came out of the house, got in her car, and told the driver to take her to Sameer’s office.
She got down at the entrance of Chemtech and the driver took the car to the parking area. Snigdha entered the reception and approached the receptionist with bated breath. When the receptionist confirmed that Sameer had indeed gone for his meeting that morning, Snigdha couldn’t stand there any longer. She ran out towards the parking lot, her insides burning. She stopped once she was outside amidst parked cars, gulping for air. Tears were clouding her eyes. Was really no hope left? Was Sameer really gone? Her head was spinning horribly. She could hear a car enter and stop somewhere in the parking area—the sound seemed to be coming from across the sea. The crushing grief kept her rooted to the spot. What was she going to tell Sameer’s parents?
Snigdha whirled around in a state of shock at the sound of that voice; it was Sameer.
Snigdha saw his surprised face through her tears and flung herself at Sameer. She clutched him with all her might, afraid to let go. Sameer put his hands on her arms, trying to push her away but Snigdha wouldn’t budge. She kept sobbing continuously, alarming Sameer. He asked worriedly, “What happened, Mini? What’s wrong?”
Nothing was wrong anymore though. Snigdha hid her face in his shoulders, his soothing voice calming her jagged nerves. His strong body beneath her palms felt reassuring. The warmth of his body heated up her cold, numb body. When she finally let him go and looked up at his bewildered face, she felt overwhelmed with love.
Sameer gave her a quick peck on the lips and asked, wiping her tear-streaked face, “What happened?”
Snigdha managed to mumble in a broken voice, “We thought we lost you in the fire accident.”
Sameer was completely perplexed. “What fire accident?”
Snigdha narrated the whole thing to him.
Sameer said, looking alarmed, “Our client decided to have a meeting with the bank manager before going to inspect the factory. So, I went to the bank first. The meeting took too long, so we cancelled the factory visit for today.” He exhaled in relief. “Thank God! I didn’t know about the fire accident, or else I would have called. Let me call mom and dad. My phone was on silent mode the whole day. That’s why I couldn’t hear your calls. Sorry.”
Sameer took out his phone and talked to his parents. Snigdha stood clutching his arm, leaning against him for support as he talked, and thanked God silently. When he finished, he pulled Snigdha into his car. He instructed Snigdha’s driver to take her car back and then sped out of Chemtech with Snigdha by his side.
On the way, Sameer said, “Mini, I’m so sorry for making you cry like that.”
“I don’t want to lose you, ever.” Snigdha’s voice was saturated with love.
Sameer looked down at her with a burning intensity. “I love you.”
Snigdha smiled up coyly at him and finally confessed her feelings to herself and to him, “I love you, too.”
Everybody hugged them when they finally got home. Snigdha felt infinitely relieved to see all the happy faces around her. She had accepted Sameer, and this fact was making her giddy with happiness.
When Sameer managed to get her alone for a few moments that evening, he said, “Mini, let’s go out and celebrate this sometime soon.”
Snigdha agreed gladly.
That night when Snigdha told Romita about the whole incident, Romita congratulated her heartily for her sensible decision. The possibility of losing Sameer made Snigdha realise how much Sameer had come to mean to her. Even after spending all those hours with Sameer and his family that afternoon, she was getting panicked to think what might have happened if Sameer had really gone.
She was watching her favourite television show when Srestha entered the room to tell her about Sameer’s call. She hurried back to her room to talk to Sameer.
The first thing Sameer said when she called him back was, “Mini, maybe we should decide a date for our wedding and tell our parents about it.”
Snigdha replied hesitantly, “I don’t know what to say.”
Sameer asked, taken aback, “Why? You do want to marry me now, don’t you? If you want more time then that’s okay with me. But what are you so hesitant about?”
“You know I’ve always been so pampered. I’ve never had to handle any serious responsibility. This feels so huge—getting committed and everything. What will I do if you get disgusted with me and run away?”
Sameer laughed out at that, making Snigdha indignant. “Shut up, okay? I’m scared. This is not a joke.”
He had no idea that Snigdha had such confidence issues. He knew her to be head-strong and self-assured. He said soothingly, “Why are you thinking so much? There is no question of me running away. We will handle every responsibility together. You are not alone in this. Moreover, mom and dad will be there to help you out with everything. You know how much they love you. You don’t need to feel pressurised at all.” A teasing note crept into his voice as he continued, “I guess the only difficult thing for you will be tolerating me. I know you have never been that keen on me.”
Snigdha replied, outraged, “What the hell do you mean by that? Didn’t I tell you clearly that I’ve fallen for you? What makes you think I won’t be able to tolerate you?”
Sameer laughed. “Well, if you can tolerate me then honestly you won’t have any problem, I promise you that. Just say yes, sweetheart.”
Snigdha felt her insides melt at the sound of his cajoling voice. His laughter suddenly sounded so seductive. In spite of all her reservations, she said, “Yes, Sameer, I’ll marry you. Just don’t ever leave me alone.”
Snigdha could hear Sameer whooping on the other end of the phone. “We will always be together, Mini. Hey, what about our first date?”
“What about it?”
“When do you want to go?”
Snigdha was being nonchalant. “You decide. You are the one who is good at arranging surprises.”
Sameer said with a hint of pride in his voice, “Okay, let me think. This can’t be anything run-of-the-mill. I’ll let you know.”
They talked on the phone for two whole hours. When Srestha dragged her downstairs for dinner, she ate as fast as she could and ran back to her room to talk to Sameer again.
The wedding got fixed on the 29th of January. The invitation cards got printed and both the families started distributing them among their acquaintances.
Sameer asked Snigdha one evening to come to his house for their first date. Snigdha couldn’t wait to be with Sameer again. They had not been able to spend any quality time with each other because of their busy work schedules lately.
YOU AND I
Sameer held the door of Snigdha’s car open. Snigdha was dazzling in a midnight blue one-shoulder dress. He himself was looking exceedingly handsome in black formals. He extended his hand towards Snigdha and she took it. He gaped at her as she stepped out of the car. “You look breathtaking tonight,” Sameer whispered close to her ear.
Snigdha had never really appreciated how disarming Sameer was before this. She felt staggered as his blazing eyes appraised her.
The whole day her heart had been fluttering in nervous anticipation, and even though they had known each other for some time now, Snigdha felt strangely shy as he hugged her tightly. He led her inside, holding her hand firmly. “You don’t know how badly I’ve been waiting for this day, Mini.” His husky voice didn’t help her nerves.
The hall was beautifully decorated with candles and flowers. Snigdha smiled. “You did all this? It’s so beautiful.”
Sameer didn’t halt there. He continued pulling her upstairs. Snigdha asked curiously, “Where are you taking me?”
Sameer smiled crookedly at her. “To the terrace; that spot is really special to me.”
Snigdha smiled at the fond memory. “Yeah, it’s special for me too.”
Snigdha and Sameer were soon standing under the gazebo. The whole place was lit up with candles. The potted plants were draped with twinkling fairy lights. A table for two was set under the star strewn sky. Snigdha felt as if the whole sky was celebrating their love with them.
Sameer picked up a bouquet and handed it to her. It had her favourite lavender orchids. Snigdha thanked her softly.
Sameer said, gazing deeply into her eyes, “Thank you for everything.”
Snigdha sounded hesitant, “Sameer, I’ve brought a gift for you.” This was the first time she had bought something for Sameer and she had put lots of thought into it. She wanted it to be really special, something he could cherish forever.
“What is it?” His voice was brimming with happiness.
Snigdha gave him a shy smile and took out a velvet box from her purse. She took out two rings from it and placed one on his outstretched palm. Sameer exclaimed softly, “Wow, platinum love bands!”
Snigdha said, “Your one has my name engraved on it and vice versa.”
Sameer wrapped one arm around her waist, pulling her close. “Put it on my finger then.”
Snigdha slipped his ring onto his finger. Sameer took the one she was still holding and put it onto her ring finger.
Sameer was delighted. “We belong together now.”
Snigdha beamed at his words. She desperately wanted his words to be the ultimate truth in her life. She said earnestly, “Sameer, you have to promise with all your heart that you will never leave me alone. No matter what I do, you can’t abandon me, ever.”
Sameer got agitated at the urgency in her voice. “Why do you always say this? What makes you think I can ever leave you? How will I live if you are not there with me?”
Snigdha said meekly, “I’m scared of losing you.”
Sameer completely entrapped her in a tight embrace. “No, don’t be afraid. Even if you put a knife on my throat, I’ll stay with you.”
Snigdha pushed him slightly and said playfully, “God, you are so melodramatic sometimes.”
Sameer laughed. “Well, my melodramas won you over, they can’t be that bad.”
Snigdha was unable to stop a sheepish grin from spreading on her face in response. “I guess not.”
Sameer said, “I brought something for you, too.”
Snigdha asked eagerly, “What?”
Sameer picked up the box kept on the chair behind them and handed it to her. She tore the wrapping paper apart and took out a small porcelain figurine from the packet. It was a girl in a flowing gown dancing in the arms of a man. She looked in wonder at the figurine. “This is us!”
Sameer explained, “Yeah, remember when Shefali made us dance together. I want you to keep dancing like this. You don’t have any idea how happy you look when you dance.”
Snigdha replied, looking steadily into his eyes, “But I’ll be happier if I get to keep this man with me.”
Sameer put a quick kiss on her forehead and made her sit on the chair. “Wait here a bit. I’ll just be back.”
Snigdha said, getting anxious, “Where are you going? Let me come with you.”
Sameer smiled soothingly. “Don’t bother. I’ll be back in a while.”
As Snigdha sat there waiting for Sameer to come back, she felt immense happiness cocooning her. She stared at the ring that Sameer had put on her finger. She had never imagined life would make Sameer the sky where she could spread her wings and fly. Sameer was looking so tremendously happy that evening, and as she pictured his ecstatic face, she felt her heart swell with joy and love. She wondered about the effect Sameer had on her—even a few minutes of distance was making her so unbearably restless.
Sameer came back with a small chocolate truffle cake. He placed it on the table and she saw the words: “For the love of my life” written on the cake with white icing. She said in dismay, “I’d better preserve it or something. I can’t eat something that says something so sweet.”
Sameer said wryly, “Of course, you can. This is just a cake.” He made her cut a slice out of the cake and put it in her mouth, licking off the cream from her fingers. Snigdha felt her hands tingle pleasantly at his touch, getting goosebumps all over her body. She tried to pull away, but Sameer pulled her closer and kissed her palm.
“Why didn’t I fall in love with you in college? We could have stayed together for so much longer.” Snigdha’s voice held regret.
Sameer said huskily, “Well, we are going to be together for the rest of our lives. That’s something to be happy about.”
Snigdha said happily, snuggling in deeper in his arms, “Yeah, it is.”
Sameer suddenly said, “I think we should leave now.”
This startled Snigdha. “What? Are you taking me home so fast? I just got here.”
Sameer’s heart melted at the sadness on her face. “No, sweetheart. We are going on a long drive.”
Snigdha got excited at the idea. “Wow, that will be great! I love going on long drives and listening to songs on the way. Yayyy! You’ll be there with me tonight.”
Soon, they were on the road. Snigdha turned the radio on. All the way they listened to people pouring out their hearts to the RJ.
Snigdha crooned, “RJ Rick has such a sweet voice. I love his shows.”
Sameer’s face fell to hear her praising another man. “Uh huh!”
“Oh well, you are sweeter than him though.” She suppressed a grin and looked at him askance.
Sameer smiled in an endearing way then, making her heart feel gooey.
Sameer drove to the Diamond Harbour Beach. She kept singing along with the songs that were playing on the radio and Sameer found himself humming along with her. There was no one around at that time on the beach. The dark water glistening in the silvery moonlight was playing along the length of the beach. A few shacks were still open at some distance from where Sameer parked the car. The radio was playing at full blast in one of those shacks.
Snigdha started running around; her childlike enthusiasm was infectious. It always perked up his mood. Sameer called out to her, “Hey, Mini, wait up,” and ran after her.
He caught up with her and pulled her towards himself. The fierce wind blew her hair in his eyes, making him cry out in pain. Snigdha pushed him and giggled. “That’s what you get for being naughty.”
Suddenly the song Teri Deewani came on the radio. Snigdha got excited to hear the song. “Let me go, Sameer. “
Sameer set her free, perplexed at her sudden excitement.
Snigdha shouted out to the night, “This one’s for you, Sameer.” Then she started moving with the song. Kailash Kher’s mesmerising voice and Snigdha’s graceful moves made the night magical. She rippled and glowed silver as the moonlight reflected off her smooth, wheatish skin. Sameer could easily mistake her for a figment of his imagination, as if she was some celestial creature that had stepped out of the dark river, just for him—to ignite his senses, bewilder his rational thoughts. Her sinuous and sensuous moves unfolded in front of his disbelieving eyes at a dizzying pace. He feasted his eyes on her, hypnotised, as she seamlessly blended from one movement into another. He had never seen her dance like this, as if her entire being was crying out for his love and acceptance.
Sameer strode purposefully towards her and took her in his arms. Snigdha looked at him with a soft and loving gaze, without flinching even a bit at this sudden intimacy. She realised with a leap of her heart that she wanted him. He made her world beautiful, made her feel beautiful. At that moment, as she stood in his arms, as she stared longingly in his soulful, dreamy eyes, she could feel the world shrink into this one man. Everything around her came to a standstill and he became the only reality for her. He didn’t want to hold back any longer and pulled her in for a kiss. Snigdha’s whole body was on fire. She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and clutched his hair firmly to pull him even closer. Sameer lifted her off her feet in his enthusiasm.
It felt like a lifetime before Sameer put her down and said, “This is the only song we will play in our wedding.”
Snigdha grinned. “I’d love that.”
Later, they carried out the food Sameer had brought in the car and sat on a big boulder to have dinner under the open sky. He had brought all sorts of oily and spicy food that she liked—biryanis and chicken dishes—though he himself ate bland, boiled food. She said, making a face, “Why can’t you eat normal things for a change, Sameer? This is irritating.”
Sameer rued with a martyred face, “Please Mini, as it is, it’s difficult to control the urge to gorge. Stop having a go at my food all the time. This food is healthy, remember that.”
Snigdha said, throwing a disgusted look at his food, “I don’t understand your determination to starve yourself with this muck. Once we get married, I’m not going to let you near all this.”
Sameer grinned wickedly in response. “We’ll see.” His face darkened at some sudden thought. “Mini, will you tell me something honestly?”
“Yeah.” Snigdha nodded, tucking into her food.
“Can you imagine yourself falling in love with me in college—I mean with the way I was then…nerdy and fat and not up to your standards?” Sameer was looking intently at Snigdha, waiting for her response with bated breath.
Snigdha was about to put some food in her mouth. Sameer’s question stopped her and made her stare at him openmouthed. She cupped his face urgently. “Standard? You were always above and beyond me, okay? I only know how to dance. And, you…you are the best in everything.” Tears came in her eyes, unbidden. “Baby, I wish, I really wish, you had asked me out in college.”
“You would have said yes?”
Snigdha was lost for words. This was the most difficult question Sameer could have ever asked her. She closed her eyes, letting the tears slide down her cheeks. “I don’t know.” She opened her eyes then and pulled herself closer to Sameer. “I don’t know what I would have done then. I only know I love you now. And, I want to love you forever.”
Sameer held her gaze for a long moment. Unable to bear even the slightest distance from Sameer, Snigdha snuggled in his chest and Sameer wound his arms around her silently.
On the way back, Snigdha saw a temple on the edge of the road. She asked Sameer to stop the car as the temple neared. Sameer was reluctant though. “It really is getting late. We should get back. Your parents are going to worry.”
Snigdha said impatiently, “No, Sameer, a few minutes won’t matter. Please. This was such a special night. I want to thank God for it.”
Sameer couldn’t protest, he himself felt the same way. They got down from the car and quickly went up the stairs.
It was a Durga temple. Snigdha silently thanked the Goddess with folded hands for everything, for giving her another chance to live happily. She found Sameer staring at her silently when she opened her eyes. The dim light in the temple was casting shadows on his face and his eyes were glowing. Snigdha felt she could see the light of her life in those soulful eyes.
Soon they were on their way home. Sameer suddenly said, “Mini, a friend of mine is coming from Singapore to attend our wedding. He’s arriving this Tuesday. I’m picking him up from the airport. Do you want to come?”
Snigdha asked, “I’m not sure. Let’s see.”
Sameer’s face darkened suddenly. “You will like him. He’s a great guy but with a really rotten luck.” He looked at her broodingly as he said this.
Snigdha asked curiously, “Why what happened?”
“It’s a depressing story. I’ll tell you later.”
Snigdha said, “Oh! Okay.” She had no intention of listening to depressing stories—not when she was so blissed out.
They pulled up in front of Snigdha’s house soon and Snigdha got out of the car. Sameer pulled down the window glass. Snigdha bent in front of him to bid him goodbye. She sweetly said, “Thanks.”
He flashed a lazy, lopsided smile at her, completely dazzling her senses. He placed his palm on her cheek and replied in his smooth and honeyed voice, “Thanks to you, too.”
Snigdha mumbled, nuzzling her face in his big, warm palm, staring at him fondly, “If a smile could kill, you would be the biggest serial killer in the history of mankind.”
He gazed at her transfixed and tried to pull her in for another kiss. But she scooted backwards, out of his reach in the nick of time, laughing. She wriggled her thumb at him mockingly and went, “I want you to miss me too much. Bye. Go home safely now.” At the sight of his disappointed face, she blew him a kiss and headed back inside.
Romita would be waiting to hear every detail of her evening. Snigdha loved her life at that moment.