There was a chill in the air. It is some day, in late autumn of 2030, when Delhi is preparing itself to come under the grip of winter. Leaves lay scattered all around in one of the by- lanes of DU North campus, where a big Mercedes came and stranded itself near the famous tea stall of Ram Bhaiyya. Best part in India is along with the high rise, the roadside stalls and dhabas continue to co-exist with their own charm.
Vibhor came out of his car, and had a good look around. Age hasn’t been able to abolish the charm around him. An immediate sense of nostalgia gripped him...his mind was drifting years back when he was just a student, admitted fresh in one of the colleges of DU. But he hasn’t just come here to cherish his memories, a certain phone call has brought him here. Vibhor looked at the tea stall and tried to recount the umpteen moments he had spent in that tea stall. It continues to remain a popular landmark.
Suddenly, he saw a pretty face, standing in front of him. His jaws dropped, he couldn’t believe what he saw. Although it’s been many years, but the reflection of her face has continue to remain in the mirror of his heart. His heart skipped a beat and his mind took him 27 years back where it all started, right in the heart of Delhi.
Zoya was this small town pretty, vivacious, lively girl who wanted to make her parents proud by standing on her own feet. To achieve her goals, she pursued her graduation in Delhi. Zoya had this chirpiness about her that was infectious; she caught the fancy of the guys around in her campus.
If Zoya had sharp features, her short height was a rider – on the other hand Vibhor had the height to die for, coupled with his smart looks and work in progress economics degree made him a good package in the market. But with Zoya, Vibhor got the home advantage over others – they were from the same town Ujjain, MP. It’s not that they knew each other, but never the less, in a new city familiarity factor, helps for sure. Vibhor used this to core, to squash off his immediate competition that existed for Zoya.
Zoya and Vibhor started off with clichéd relation of “we are just good friends, then best friends”, and both pretended the same not only in front of others but to each other as well. But love had found way to their hearts, long back. Jealousy, possessiveness and protectiveness were earmarked traits in this one year of supposed friendship. Finally Vibhor proposed Zoya on 24th November, 2004, exactly a year after they first met. A very good thing about first love is the innocence around it, and that it is more about give than take.
They had completed a year of relationship officially. Both were preparing hard for their MBA exams. Zoya was slowly growing out of shadow of Vibhor, who was like pseudo guardian for Zoya till date. She was ready to make her own choices in life. With years, Zoya and Vibhor were getting matured...which meant their mind started to rationalize, and frequency of expectations, ego- clashes went up. Fights increased, tension grew. Best part of course, was either of them could not sleep without making up with the other.
Catastrophe struck when they pursued their MBA careers in different cities. Sometimes too much love makes human beings vulnerable. Separation and their natural flair to be popular among opposite sexes made them insecure. It was Vibhors birthday and night before they ended up having huge fight, as Vibhor had stayed back at female friend’s house last night. Zoya wanted to make up and surprise him, so she took a flight to Delhi. When Zoya entered his flat, party was in full swing and in the centre was a drunken Vibhor, being kissed by his batch mate Anushka. Next scene saw a hard hitting slap, being planted on Vibhors face in full swing. Zoya walked out fuming, leaving behind a stunned Vibhor, helpless and too shocked to react.
Zoya knew deep inside Vibhor was not unfaithful; it was probably a moment of weakness. But her ego did not allow to reconcile. Vibhor for the first time sensed fear of losing Zoya. The thought of a life without Zoya, was unthinkable for him. Six months have passed since then. Vibhor had lost count on the number of times he tried to reconcile. Both were no more in talking terms.
A year has passed since his last fateful birthday. It was 16 th October, 2007. On his birthday eve he gifted himself a crimson Santro. And he had one wish – to take Zoya for his first long drive and bring her back. She had returned two months back to Delhi with her new job. He anxiously called up – with a hope she will pick up phone. Surprisingly she picked up the phone early, her voice unusually calm. Without any fuss, she agreed to meet. Vibhor’s heart beat and car were accelerating at top speed towards their destination – Zoya. He looked at the rear mirror and smiled to himself- God I love her!!!.
Zoya’s hair has grown long. She wore a white Anarkali and was looking heavenly. Vibhor was trying hard to keep his eyes off her. She hugged and wished him. He so badly wanted to kiss her. The car speeded towards Gurgaon-Jaipur highway. He always waited for this day – the day he would earn and fulfil all her wishes. The irony is that today he has a plush job in his kitty but limited access to Zoya. Suddenly she said “Look, I have forgotten and forgiven everything. Actually we were kids, and too much possessive about each other...we loved each other, without understanding practicality of situation”. Vibhor did so not like this matured talk of new Zoya but he remained silent.
But then Zoya uttered something which tethered his heart. Zoya was engaged and getting married in December. Vibhor’s face turned red with anger and his hands were trembling. The car was brought to a screeching halt. He went out and started shouting” This is so wrong, this is so fucking wrong....you have gone down to taking bloody revenge on me”. Zoya had anticipated this violent reaction, she remain composed. Seeing Zoya unmoved, suddenly his anger turned into a child-like nervousness and tears started rolling out of his eyes. He moved closer to Zoya, holding her by arms. He tried to caress her cheeks with his nose while looking into her eyes: “You are my life- please don’t take it away from me –If you tell me not to speak to any girl, I never will, if you tell me not to smoke, I will not touch cigarette my whole life, just don’t leave me, please don’t ....and he broke down inconsolably, crying I will die...I will die”. Zoya could not hold herself back.
She held his face closely with her hands and said “Problem is that we have loved each other a bit too much and we will always end up hurting each other, so it is better this way and kissed him”. Zoya’s statement appeared Greek to him but he realized decision is made and his fate is sealed. On return journey, no one spoke a word. Zoya got down, looked at Vibhor with teary eye, and deep inside said “Forgive me; I could not convince my parents. It is better you hate me, then only you will move on in life”. That’s the last time, Vibhor ever met Zoya.
It is twenty two years since their last meeting. In these years, they have spoken twice that too ten years back. There she stood in front of her – near the tea stall. He couldn’t believe in his eyes – she looked like her but it wasn’t her - she was an uncanny replica of Zoya twenty seven years back. Before he could speak, the girl came and softly extended her hand and introduced herself as Ayanna. Zoya’s daughter. He closed his eyes.
Vibhor could not cope up with his break up with Zoya. His company shifted him to US project on a special request. There he met his wife Mishti through a common friend. Mishti was studying Mass Communication there. In his second relationship, he never seek love – he only searched for peace and he found it with Mishti. All his love had exhausted away with Zoya. Mishti was a very sweet, simple girl, with no qualms – loved him and most importantly understood him and his past. Slowly but surely she became his strength. Two years after dating they got married and post marriage settled in India. And here he was, a settled man with a content life, a wonderful life partner and two lovely boys. Post meeting Ayanna, he knew his life was going to change again.
Vibhor looked at her with stunned silence. She smiled at her. He knew this is not co-incidence God and plethora of questions pierced his brains.
There was sense of awkwardness as they settled in the bench near the tea stall. Though it was sunny, wind seemed to have picked up. The rustling of the wind broke their silence. “Ma wanted me to meet you. She told about you last year” said Ayanna softly. Vibhor looked at her. She would be barely 20, but she spoke maturely. She knew about their relationship, at least some of it. How he used to climb walls of girls hostel to meet her secretly at night, how he used to wait in front of her dance school to pick her up and drop till hostel in a friends bike and how he once kneeled down in front of her friends to propose her. There was a genuine happiness in her face when she was saying all this. For Vibhor, as if he was reliving his moments all over again.
Vibhor wondered why Ayanna is here to meet him. Surely she wasn’t here to discuss his memories. Vibhor looked at her. Ayanna’s face stiffened reading the question in his face. She recomposed herself, and took out a envelope from her back, and said “Mom wanted you to have it “. A letter and few photographs slipped out of that envelope. First photograph was taken in 3rd year when Vibhor slept in the library with his mouth open @ DU waiting for Zoya. As he glanced at the second photograph, it was on the dance floor of IIT Fest, Vibhor picking Zoya in the air and how Zoya gave him a royal ignore when they first met...they laughed together. The bonding with her has been quite instant; he did not know still why she was here.
Vibhor started reading the letter, and at one point his face froze. It read “By the time you will get this letter, I will be no more in this world”. He came close to her and held closely and looked into her eyes. Ayanna could not hold her back, and hugged him tightly in tears “Maa left us last year. She was in advanced stages of leukemia”. A numbness engulfed Vibhor, he could not see, feel or hear anything. His eyes was blurred with tears, his voice choked from inside, his ears could not bear the pain of the news...he sat still as if life has flown out of him. He doesn’t remember how long he would have sat there....his life had come to a full circle. He held closely the letter to his heart and was stuck to the thought he will never be able to see Zoya again. Slowly he realized Ayanna was sitting quietly crying beside him. It has been in an hour, tears were still rolling from his eyes.
Zoya was hands on single mother. She walked out of the marriage on 7th year, when differences were irreconcilable. Zoya told her about Vibhor when she was in hospital. Last year onwards, Ayaana studies in Delhi and stays with his grandparents. Zoya never contacted Vibhor.
Ayaana held his hand and asked “Do you still love her “. He smiled at her and asked “Can you stop loving yourself?”. Confused Ayaana nodded. Vibhor replied, “Zoya is an extended self of me, how can I stop loving her”. There was a new found admiration in her eyes. “Will you tell me your and Ma’s story “she asked. Vibhor replied, only if she gave her a tea party. Ayaana went to get tea. Vibhor kissed the letter and looked up: “Thanks for giving me the second chance and a daughter. I will take care of her and give her all happiness I wished for you.”
“First time, I saw her when she was coming out of her PG, her wet hair falling over her face, I can’t forget it ever, the look in her eyes....she was so pretty “. Suddenly he remembered today is 24th November, the day they first met. He smiled to himself “The day I learned to love”.