“I set him free, so why didn’t he come back?” her hands were trembling as she lit yet another cigarette. She was a mess, and she was my dear friend. In the last couple of months after her husband dumped her, Ishaani was crumbling. Very few people could reach out to her. Despite my crazy schedule, I made time for her every single day. She was bright and articulate and knew she was on a downward spiral, yet there seemed to be nothing she could do. She was trying. Reiki, meditation, spending time with family, getting a pet – she had tried it all and was still miserable.
We were together in post-grad, and I knew her as someone stubborn and full of fun. She had dreams and ambitions, which is why she was living by herself in Mumbai. She didn’t talk too often about her mother or her life before we met in Shimla. Once we became roommates, I got to know about Sameep, her ex-boyfriend, back home. They had been childhood sweethearts, yet things had not worked out. He couldn’t keep his part of the deal of moving to Mumbai together since his ailing mother needed him. She needed to pursue her dreams, and she moved….growing up overnight. She loved the big city and the freedom that came with it. Of course, we always joked about the fact that deep down, she was still the small-town girl who would be happiest playing wife and baking cakes at home.
Survival in Mumbai meant none of that. We soon moved into different jobs and new lives. We met up often and knew about every new crush and campaign that the other worked on. She didn’t like the way people used each other and said she couldn’t fall in love with a city-bred bloke. She seldom spoke of Sameep, and whenever she did, she smiled wistfully and said the only thing he lacked was ambition. She claimed she would never forget the look on his face as he stood on the railway station as her train left. The look in his eyes and his grey striped sweater was an image she would never forget. At her lowest too, she thought of him fondly and said she didn’t want to get in touch with him since he was probably leading a beautiful life as a householder and wished him well.
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Almost at the same time, both of us discovered love. Mine flew out of the window in six months; hers made it to the altar. They seemed besotted with each other, and like most newlyweds, they had time only for each other. Soon I got busy with work and then my wedding. By then, Ishaani had given up working and was enjoying playing the wife who baked cakes at home. She advocated marriage for everyone…till her super busy husband started changing. She put up a brave front and said things like one night stands had to be overlooked. She was losing sight of reality, cocooned as she was in her make-believe world. Then without as much as a decent chat, he walked out and sent her divorce papers. It was heartless and cruel…and so real. She begged, cried, fell ill, even attempted suicide, but nothing could keep the creep back. He moved cities, and she was a wreck.
Gradually, one day at a time, she started healing. Took up a job and channelised a lot of her time and energy into yoga, a passion she had long forgotten. She had her bad days, yet she was coping. I knew she hated being around couples, and we all decided to give her time.
Then she called one day sounding excited after years. She had gone for a yoga camp to Goa and bumped into Sameep. It was magical, she claimed. The feelings came rushing back. They spoke for a bit, and both assumed the other was happily married. Now that they had exchanged numbers, they promised to keep in touch. He lived in Mumbai too, in fact pretty close to where she did. He had a great job. I hadn’t heard her sound so happy in ages, yet I warned her asking her to stay away from a married guy.
Over the weekend they spoke….he had been single for the last four years. His wife had turned out to be a gold-digger and had left after taking hefty alimony. She says she couldn’t suppress her grin as she said she was sorry to hear that! If this wasn’t a miracle, what was?
Ishaani and Sameep were both still unsure, given their experiences and given their shared history. So for two years, they stayed “good friends” and pretended the feelings had gone away. Yet he was right for her. This time around, she wasn’t willing to make a man her priority. So it was a far more stable and calm relationship she was in. The anonymous nature of the big city worked for them as they could hang without eyebrows raised.
I teased her when I got to know she was baking a cake for his birthday! That was the day he proposed. Being the travel junkies, they both are, they got married at a beautiful ashram in the Himalayas. It’s been six months, and the 38-year-olds who fell in love 20 years ago are still blushing. She just knitted a grey striped sweater for him, like the one he had in college. The things love you do…