“ You’re the only one going to be left unmarried… and I will never be a grandmother…” sniffed Rushil’s mother Meera, as they were getting ready for the engagement of Rushil’s cousin, who was a couple of years younger.
“What a drama queen you’re, Mom? He found the girl of his dreams hence, the engagement.”

“Nonsense, it’s an arranged marriage. He is sensible so he has agreed to get married rather than wait for eternity for his dream girl, like some damn movie! And if you like someone by all means marry her, but please marry someone even if it is a guy, at least I will know where your preference is!”

Rushil burst out laughing giving his mum a hug. “I am perfectly straight, it that was all that you wanted to know… start searching for someone from your circles… or the marriage portal….now let’s get ready or we will be in time for Rahul’s wedding!”

Rushil was not averse to marrying, but surprisingly he wasn’t able to forget the image of the girl whom he had met long back, practically seven years ago. He was 23 doing his Masters in Business Management and she was just 18 and they had come together in some inter-collegiate meet held for a social event ‘reach to teach.’ They belonged to different colleges and their inter-action was quite minimal except on their last evening together. He had been trekking in that wild rural belt when he came across her watching the sunset and he felt compelled to sit by her side to start conversation.

“All alone, no boy friend!” he had teased.

“I don’t have one……”

“ not because of lack of trying , I noticed that many of them very hovering around you like bees around the honey pot.”

“don’t be crude! I am not interested….. I have miles to go before I settle.” She re-phrased Robert Frost and they started talking of literature, movies, books and on varied issues.

She told him about her background on the importance of education in her family and how her sister had let down her parents dreams by choosing marriage and practically forsaking her engineering degree. “That’s why I keep men at a distance. I don’t want to make the same mistake and hurt them all over again. They have no one else except we two and I can’t let them down.”
Like the Bard, I would say, “Lady, you are the cruell’st she alive, If you will lead these graces to the grave …And leave the world no copy,” was his immediate response and she had blushed beetroot red!

It was quite some time before they made their way to the camp. Her friends had been frantic with worry and Rushil never realized that the chance meeting would make an indelible impact in future. He knew nothing about her besides her name and they parted ways.

It was quite ironic that even after years, her words, her mobile face, her perfume and above all her simple yet appealing gesture of her sweeping back hair from her beautiful earnest eyes often teased his senses. He found himself hoping that she would cross his path even if only to prove his attractions shallow and immature. He often felt the depth of his feelings quite embarrassing and desisted from sharing it from anyone lest he discovered that he was laughed at.

Fate had no such qualms …..Rushil found himself face to face with his dream girl …. at her engagement to his cousin! He stood rooted to the spot till his sister nudged him quite sharply to bring him back to earth and finally he managed, “Oh, hello… fancy meeting you again.” hoping that his earlier gaffe could be mistaken for the surprise element.

“Oh… Hi. It’s nearly seven years since we met, isn’t it? Fancy you recognized me… I thought I had changed for the better. You disappoint me!” She laughed and Rushil felt a fresh blow to his solar plexus. He hoped that his smile did not look as strained as it felt. “Congrats…. Rajiv….I hope you would be happy!” Rushil felt that each word was an agony and he clasped his hands warmly hoping that his happiness was suitably feigned, all the time wondering if this was the nemesis for his past deeds.

The whole evening was a disaster. Rushil knew that he had to get away before he made the whole gathering speculate…but he was just unable to move on. He stood at a distance watching the proceeding and each and every time Rajiv placed a casual hand on Apurva’s arm, he went ballistic. “Is she the girl,?” his sister asked handing him a drink.

“What do you mean? I met her but once….and I…”

“am unable to forget that chance meeting!” She completed the sentence for him.

“Is it that clear? Your brother who gave you plenty of unwarranted advice is now behaving like a bloody teenager… wearing his heart on his sleeve..for the world to see!” He took a swing from his drink, “I longed to meet her some day, hoping to confirm that what I felt… for her was unreal…but it turns out to be very real and too late!”

Neha just stood by his side not knowing what to do… she just could not bear the pain her dear brother was experiencing. She felt tears sting her eyes and discreetly led him away toward the balcony.

Apurva felt her jaw hurt from all that smiling. Her meeting with Rushil was something she had not expected. She was basically reticent and she was initially aghast at the way she had practically bared her soul to a stranger all those years back. She had half expected his entire cronies snigger but the morning after when he had just waved a casual goodbye, she felt deflated. It was clear that she had not made as much impact on him as he on her. It was all for the best and she forced her mind away from him in single minded determination. The fact that she was too young also helped her as she was able to put away the attraction in the slot meant for infatuation.

Hence, she surprised herself when she unconsciously found herself measuring every man she met to that of the comparative stranger. She never realized that every aspect of him right from his intelligent demeanour to his laughter lines had made such an indelible impact on her senses. She surreptitiously looked around to the place where she had seen him standing just to see him going out of the balcony with a pretty young thing. So much for her foolishness, she decided.

The evening was quite a bit along when she came face to face with Rushil and his partner. Rajiv hugged the girl warmly, “Neha is my favourite among my cousins! She combines beauty with brains just like you!” He informed Apurva . Turning to Rushil, he thumped him on his back exuberantly, “What’s up old man? When is it going to be your turn? Apurva… he is the brain of our family… the most eligible bachelor but he steadfastly refuses to give up the title…. He likes to play the field…” he laughed at his own joke… “If I didn’t know better I would attribute it to a broken heart!” And he turned away to greet a friend little realizing that he was close to the mark.

There was a pregnant silence…. all three of them caught in a tableau. “Welcome to our family…” Neha said forcing a welcome in her smile and hoping that it did not look false. Apurva smiled back quite liking the girl and giving her a return hug, when she distinctly heard a whisper in her ears, “But I wish you were my real SIL.” She pushed herself away from Neha’s arms searching in her eyes only to have her smiling back innocently. She looked at Rushil who quickly turned away as soon as their eyes met.

It was an unhappy evening in Rajan’s household…. Neha and her husband had come back to the house after the engagement to decide the future.

“It’s an unfortunate turn of events, and none anticipated…but what shall we do now? Are you sure Apurva too likes Rushil, Neha?”

“Positive dad. I could feel the vibrations all throughout the evening, but Rushil is right; we cannot hurt Rajiv nor uncle and aunty. They would be heartbroken not to mention breaking up of your close sibling relationship. Rushil has to let go and get on with his life…. though it is indeed sad!”

“Mom, Dad,” the decisive Rushil was back. “I will take up an overseas assignment. There is one coming up, I needn’t have to, but this time I will opt for it. I cannot attend Rajiv’s wedding in the present circumstance. I hope you understand!”

It was a very subdued household that prepared for Rushil’s departure scheduled a month later.

Rajiv was perplexed. He just could not understand the vibrations. Rushil, his greatest pal appeared to be deserting him at the crucial time of his life. His reasons for professional commitment lacked conviction…….. it also appeared that Apurva was avoiding him…he frowned and reached an unpalatable conclusion. Could he be mistaken? They gave the impression that their only meeting was 7-8 years back, but all the same………

He made a phone call to a common friend and realized that the overseas engagement was Rushil’s own idea, “You could have knocked us over with a feather, when he insisted on it, you know he needn’t have gone,” said his source with relish.

Yes, time to confront Apurva.. so deciding he surprised her rather shocked her at her workplace. “I wish you hadn’t turned up today, Rajiv. I am in the middle…”

“I think not turned up permanently would be more appropriate, Apurva. Today I need some answers and l am not ready for any evasive techniques … so when and where are we meeting.”

“You mean to say that you both have never met after that day aeons back and still carrying a torch for each other!” exclaimed Rajiv his coffee forgotten. “Hope you are not twitting me.”

“ No… Rajiv….” Apurva said miserably, “I hardly expected to meet him after all these years. I was running out of excuses regarding my single status… and moreover I am 25 and my parents were getting impatient… so I accepted the arranged match… and Rajiv I really liked you.”

“What were your plans for our future? Truth please!”

“I was caught in a quandary. I knew that I couldn’t hurt you at the same time I can’t be doing you a great injustice … I knew I will be hurting both mine and your parents besides you …I was trying to work a way out of all this…..” She hid her face and sobbed silently.

“Idiot!” Rajiv said passing her a hanky. “We were not in love, you know! It was just an arranged marriage. Come, we will first meet your parents then go on to Rushil’s house. Just follow my lead…ok?… This is going to be fun,” he added with such whacko humour.

When Rushil opened the door, he was flabbergasted. “Hi, thought we could meet you as you wouldn’t be there for the wedding,” enthused Rajiv. “Aunty, make me your famous carrot halwa…. Oh, you don’t have any carrots … but no worries; I got some for you! Apurva too knows about your great culinary magic! Hello, Uncle… ” he turned with great gaiety and found his uncle’s eyes twinkling at him, catching him in his act. The door bell pealed again, “It must be Neha and Sanjay, and Apurva’s parents. I had asked them to meet us here…” he said as he opened the door.

Neha rushed in giving Rajiv a resounding kiss on his cheek, “Thank you!” Sanjay hugged him with great warmth. “Let’s skip the suspense, prepare your sweet to welcome your daughter-in-law,” he told his mother-in-law as the family welcomed Apurva with pleasure.
Rushil choked as he hugged Rajiv and turning he held out his arms to Apurva and she walked into them with a radiant smile.