Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The mysterious phone call



                                              
 It was about 7 PM in the evening. I was sitting in my room, deep in thought, when the phone rang.

An unknown number.

Who would it be?

I picked up.

Me: Hello!

The other person (Let’s call it ‘Op’ in short): Hello! Am I talking to Mr. Ashmur?

A girl voice! Strange ‘cause very few people, that too only my close friends, call me that. Who is this then?

Me: Yes. Tell me! Who’s this?

Op: Never mind who I am. I wanted to talk to you.

Me: Sorry? Talk to me? About what? And why should I talk to someone who I do not know?

I felt strange. A sweet girl voice. An unknown number. Not revealing their identity. Must be some friend of mine who’s playing with me.

Op: About something important. Please listen to me. And if it’s important, my name is Lavanya.

Lavanya? I only know of 2 Lavanyas and I could confidently say that it was neither.

Me: Lavanya? Which Lavanya? Stop playing with me. Tell me who is this and what do you want?

Op: I told you. My name is Lavanya. I know you from your blog. I follow it. And I do know things about you that no one else would know.

That’s strange!

Me: Like what?

Op: Like you just watched the Nirbhaya documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ and you are disturbed because of that – especially the graphic reconstruction of the horrific event.

I was taken aback. How did she know that? Did I write about it somewhere? Oh yeah, I tweeted about it. Must be following me on Twitter too. But I don’t recollect any Lavanya following me on Twitter. And how did she get my number? By now, I was convinced that it was a friend who was trying to play a prank on me.

Me: You must be following me on Twitter. But tell me, who are you? Who gave you my number? Stop playing with me. I don’t have time for this. I am cutting the call if you don’t reveal your identity.

Op: Stop! No. Don’t cut the call. I’m serious. I’m not any prankster. You do not know me, but I know you. Beyond Twitter & blog too. I know you because I have seen you. I’m a journalist. But that’s what the world thinks I do. I moonlight for the intelligence bureau. 

Me: What? Enough of this kidding. Tell me who this is. Or I’m cutting the call now.

Op: I know you won’t believe me. I’ll tell you something about you that no one else in this world would know. You’d probably believe me then. 

She told me. I was stunned.

Op: Hope you believe me now. Just listen to me. The reason I picked you to make this call is because I felt that you are the most responsible of the 3 persons I had in my list. Now, I want you to do as I say.

By now, I was numb. Is it for real? What’s happening? Whatever she told me, stunned me to say the least. How could she know? Like she said, no one in the world knows.

Me: I dunno what to say. Please tell me. 

Op: I am recording this conversation. I’ll send you the audio file once we end this call. I’ll send it via mail. You are to write about this phone call in your blog within the next 3 days. Please quote me verbatim in the conversation. 

Me: What purpose will that serve? 

Op: It holds a cryptic message to what we are doing. I’m involved in an assignment with the IB. We are tracking down some cyber attacks. In that fight, we post such messages in some random blogs. That’s all I can say for now. 

Me: What you say is scary!  What if you are just lying? What if I’m being used as a pawn here? What if you don’t belong to the IB but some terror network?

Op: Even if that were the case, do you have a choice?

Now, that was really frightening.

Me: What do you mean?

Op: I mean to say that you’ll write it anyway, irrespective of whether you believe me or not.

Me: What?

Op: Yes, you will. Open your mail now. Your personal mail, not your institute id. 

I hurriedly opened my mail in my laptop, while the call was still on. There was a mail from someone called Lavanya. I opened it.
 
Hi Ashmur,
It was nice talking to you on the phone. PFA the audio file recording of the call.
Regards,
Lavanya

And there was an audio file attached.
I was a little shocked. I got back to the call. 

Me: Hello?

Op: Got the mail? Fine! Let me assure you that there’s nothing for you to worry. This is a routine intelligence exercise. Just write the blog post and that’s all. 

Me: O...O... Okay!

Op: Now Ashmur, enough of my business. Let’s talk something else. 

Me: Wh...What?

Op: A word of advice. Do not worry about the days ahead! I know you are evaluating 3 choices in your mind. Go for the second one. That’s the best for you.

Me: WHAT? HOW DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE CHOICES?

Op: I told you I know more about you than probably you yourself do. 

Me: But... But this?

Op: Ha ha ha!

She laughed loudly

Op: Don’t worry about it!  All your info is safe with the IB. Now, I’ll end the call. Don’t try to trace the number for you won’t find such number anywhere in the world! We use a cryptic app for calling. Also, you won’t find the mail id anywhere. So do not worry about it! Plus the mail will self-destroy itself in an hour. So download the audio file before that! Do not try to take any screenshot of the mail! It won’t work. We have fed a worm into your system that will disable the action. Again, do not worry! The worm will kill itself once the mail destroys itself. And that’s not all. The worm will destroy the audio file and all traces of it too.

Me: A well laid out plan?

Op: Ofcourse! It’s time for me to go. Just listen to the audio soon and blog about this whole conversation within 3 days. Your job is done. We won’t bother you again.

Me: But there’s hardly anything in this conversation that sounds secretive. It’s as plain as anything else.

Op: Well, that’s the beauty of it. It appears plain to everyone. But not to cryptologists like us. Just do what I say.

Me: O…O… Okay! 

Op: Fine then! Nice talking to you, Ashmur! Looking forward to your blog. Keep writing! Bye!

With that she cut the call. It took me 5 minutes to regain my senses. 

I opened the mail again and checked the id. It said Lavanya <no-name@nomail.com>

I tried to take a screen shot. It was not functioning. My snipping tool was also not functioning. I took my phone and tried to take a pic. All that came in the pic were some blurred lines. Looks like the worm had taken care of this too. The screen resonance was at its highest, that hardly anything was visible in the phone cam. I downloaded the audio file and listened to it. It was for 7 mins. Once I was done listening, the ‘blue screen of death’ appeared and the system restarted. 

When I logged in again, the saved audio file was not to be seen. The mail was also gone and no trace of it remained. I checked my phone. The number was also not to be seen in the call records.

What kind of sorcery is this?

I went to sleep thinking about it. 

When I woke up the next morning, I once again checked everywhere. No traces were to be found. Was this all a nightmare? 

Must be! I forgot about it for two days and carried on normally until today afternoon when I got a message from an unknown number.

Hi Ashmur, hope you are posting that blog. Today is the third day. Wanted to remind you. By the way, your phone will restart in another 30 seconds.

As soon as I closed the message, the phone mysteriously restarted. When it started again, the message was not to be seen. 

I was now convinced that I had to write the blog. And hence this post.

-Ashmur

 PS: Lavanya, here's your post. I know that can't be your name. But, I've kept my promise. So don't bother me again.

PPS: Truth is stranger than fiction.

PPPS: Nothing stops you from thinking that this is just a fiction. I'd love to think so too. But what if it's real?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Gaga Chronicles Part 4: Fight for love – the (anti) climax

This is Part 4 of the story 'Gaga Chronicles'. To read Part 1, click here. To read Part 2, click here. To read Part 3, click here.
 
Disclaimer: This is a work of pure fiction. All the characters and the sequences are a figment of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to any person dead or alive is purely coincidental.
 November 11th, 2011:
I did not call her after the anniversary. I was frustrated that a day that I considered very important was insignificant to her. She did not even remember it. I wanted to message her something that very night, but refrained from doing so knowing that I was angry. The last time I did something like that, a big fight ensued between us. Thankfully, I was able to resist myself this time around. The following week, I decided that I would not message her or talk to her. If she wants, let her talk to me or message me. I am not going to initiate anything.

I actually felt good that week. It was like the ball was in my court now and that I was holding the aces by ignoring her. She did message me two times in Whatsapp that week. I did not respond. It felt great to be doing something to her that which she normally does to me. 

I was sitting in my room that night when at 11 PM, I got a mail from her. I was skeptical as to what it’d contain. It seemed like a long letter. I was in two minds whether to read it or not. But you can’t resist a letter from your girlfriend, you see. I opened and read it. She had written in detail about how her life at IIM B has been so far. She had written about certain things in detail that which we haven’t spoken of during those calls. Strangely enough, there was no mention of her best ‘buddy’ in IIM B who I considered to be my villain now. However, reading that letter gave me a sense of satisfaction and relief for she had taken the pains to write such a detailed letter. Also, her tone was very sweet in that letter and it only added to my joy. I wanted to thank her for the letter with a detailed reply of my own, but I could not find the right words. So I just replied ‘I love you’ to her, not expecting any reply. Surprisingly, she replied saying “Me too”. That totally made my day, for she only replies “Thanks” whenever I say ‘I love you’ to her. I felt overjoyed and slept very peacefully after a long time that day.

November 17th, 2011:

The week after that letter, we messaged each other frequently and I felt things were back to how they were, a year back. I was happy all week. 

On my birthday, she called me at midnight to wish me. I was thrilled and thanked her. Ashwin, Ananya & Sahana made me cut a cake they had got for me. I told Gaga about it when we spoke and surprisingly, she asked me to send the pics. I was elated. Since Sahana had taken the pics, I asked her to send the pics to Gayu and gave her Gayu’s id. That afternoon, I got a courier. It was a gift from Gayu. She had got me a beautiful woolen jacket to be used in the upcoming winter. I simply loved it and was floored by the gift. I immediately called her to thank her. But her tone was completely different now. She sounded as though she was angry with me. I didn’t know why. I just thanked her and ended the call. I could not guess the reason for her anger and I decided to forget it thinking that it must be because of some work pressure or some impending deadline. 

The next morning, she did not reply when I messaged her something. From her whatsapp header, I could clearly see that she had come online after my message, but did not bother to reply. I thought about the events of yesterday to try and find out as to what could be the reason for her anger and if I had done something that angered her. Then I remembered that she asked me for the pics. I called Sahana to check if she had mailed Gayu the pics. She answered in the affirmative. So, I asked her to forward that same mail to me. I got the mail and I went through the pics. That’s when it struck me. One of the pics had just Ananya and me and she was feeding me a slice of cake. The pic looked really good and Ananya looked gorgeous in that pic. Any third person who sees that pic would mistake us for a couple. I realized that Gaga would have gotten angry on seeing the pic. So I called her again in the evening. She did not pick up. I called her twice that night but again got no response. I called her again and this time she picked up. She sounded irritated.

“Gaga, why are you avoiding my calls? I really liked the jacket. Thanks a ton! So thoughtful of you!”

“Fine. What do you want now?” I am not in a mood to talk to you. I don’t want to talk to you.”

“Why? What’s wrong? I hope I have not done something to anger you?”

“Really? Think about it. I take the pains to call you and wish you in the dead of the night. I order a gift for you to surprise you. But you? You are happily spending time with that stupid girl there, forgetting all about me.”

Oh, so that’s what it is! Just as I had suspected.

I spent the next 15 minutes convincing her that Ananya was only a friend and there was nothing between us and that Gaga was the only person who dominated my thoughts. In between, she hurled a couple of mild abuses at Ananya. It’s funny how girls behave in the face of such competition. It amused me as to how a soft-spoken girl like Gaga could get all worked up about another girl who she suspected of trying to usurp me from her. It’s always a good situation to be in when a girl fights for your love and attention and becomes possessive. But then, I thought about how I felt the same way about Kaushik. I then felt a little ashamed of myself and apologized to Gaga for giving way to suspicions. I assured her that Ananya was only a friend and promised to keep a distance. I had half a mind to tell her the same thing about Kaushik, but you can’t, you see. I knew that if I said something about Kaushik, she’d accuse me of suspecting her and would cry and the fight would prolong. So I did not mention Kaushik, despite her hurling so many accusations at me and Ananya. Double standards, some may call it. But that’s how long distance relationships work! It requires a lot a compromises and sacrifices and more often than not, it’s the boy who has to give in.

November 27th, 2011:

Since the call, we were messaging each other in whatsapp and I thought that things were fine even though we did not speak to each other. That morning, she messaged me that she was going on a trip to Coorg, a hill station nearby, with her friends. I wanted to ask her as to who were the friends, but refrained from doing so. I just wished her a happy journey. I felt slightly disturbed that day. 

I met Ashwin and the girls that evening. Over the past one month or so, I could sense that Ananya was increasingly getting closer to me. She sat by my side in class every day and she often visited me in my room even when the other two weren’t present. I was not sure as to what she had in her mind, but to honour the promise I made to Gaga, I made it a point to tell her something or the other about Gaga every day, just to put her off. But she seemed to like those stories a lot and was tacitly asking me to tell more about Gaga. I felt strange about this. I thought my talks about Gaga would put her off, but it only made her become more interested in me and these stories. Girls are strange, you see. You can never understand them. Never. 

That evening, while talking, I told them about how Gayu is going on a trip with her friends. Everyone gave a collective “Wowwww!” Ashwin then told me how a trip to the hill station is the best avenue to kindly your romantic interests and he recounted a story about how a love story between two of his former colleagues clicked after they went on an office picnic to a hill station. This totally irked me. Idiot! Why did he have to tell me this now?

Two days later:

Gayu messaged me saying that the trip was awesome and that she had a whale of a time with her friends. She told me that her ‘friend’ had uploaded the pics and asked me to check them out by visiting his profile. I was irked. I wasted no time and logged on to FB. I saw about 25 pics and she was with that loafer Kaushik in about 20 of them. They were alone in about 10 pics. Just the two of them. Posing in front of the scenic beauty of the hills like a couple. Reading the comments below the pics only heightened my disappointment and anger. The comments ranged from ‘the next pair in the making’ and some winking smileys to ‘love is in the air’ and ‘made for each other’. That was the last nail in the coffin. I was hugely disappointed. I skipped classes that day. Was she taking revenge on me for that Ananya pic? If that were true, it was very childish of her, I thought. I could not contain my disappointment. Here she was advising and extracting a promise from me only 10 days back, and now she’s doing the same. I tried to calm myself down saying that she only posed with him as a friend as she was not holding him in any of the pics and it was just the crowd that had taken to all the teasing in the comments. Still, it was very very difficult for me. Unable to contain myself, I called her. She did not pick. I decided to let it rest and go to sleep. 

Seeing me not present in class, Ananya came calling to my room in the afternoon. I was trying to sleep, but couldn’t. I opened the door for her. She came in. Seeing me dull, she asked me what the matter was. 

I was longing to pour my angst at someone and wasted no time in telling her all that had happened. Ananya asked me to come out with her and she took me out for lunch. She got me lunch and consoled me that it was all going to be alright and asked me not to think about it. I felt better after lunch and we returned to my room. There she told me that it’s time that I stopped bothering myself too much about Gaga.

“Akshay, you are letting yourself down because of her. You should stop worrying too much about her and start concentrating on yourself. Look at you! You are everything that a girl would dream of! You’re such a nice person. You are capable of so many things. Yet, you keep wasting your time on her while she doesn’t seem to care. You got to be doing many more things Akshay. You’re a brilliant quizzer and you write well too. You got to go out and start concentrating on those things. Go, do the things you like. Give it some time and give it a rest. Things will slowly fall in place.”

God! She was beautiful! Not for nothing had the boys named her the most beautiful girl in the campus and it’s not without a reason were they all jealous of me because of my closeness to her.

I just sat there and kept looking into her eyes. Her words were like a soothing balm for my injured heart.
She clasped my hands in hers and looked at me.

“You deserve better Akshay!” she said and she came forward and hugged me. I did not resist. I hugged her back. This time around, she lent me the shoulder that I needed to cry on and drown my sorrows. 

Boys are emotionally gullible too! You just need to put the right words. 

When my senses returned after nearly a full minute, I broke free from her hug and thanked her. I told her that I felt much better now and it is best that she leaves now as I wanted to spend some time alone. She did not protest and she calmly left with a “Take care Akshay!”

December 15th, 2011:

I did not talk to Gaga since that day. It had been two weeks and we had our exams too. When she messaged me something in whatsapp, I replied with a one word answer – ‘Exams’. With that she did not message me further. With Ananya too, normalcy returned. It’s to her credit, she did not talk about anything that happened that day and we focused on our Term 2 exams. Post the exams, we did not have any holidays then as our holidays were scheduled for the Christmas- New Year weekend. 

We had our Summer Placements scheduled in between. The week after the exams was spent on that. I felt that I wanted an Operations/Supply Chain profile as that was what I felt comfortable in. So I applied for Amazon and managed to land a Summer Internship Offer with them. They told me that my project would be in Delhi and I had no problems with that. The other three too landed good offers. We felt happy that week. I informed Gayu in Whatsapp about it. She congratulated me and told me that she had landed an internship with HUL about a month back. This kinda irked me for she did not feel the need to tell me this while I informed her about mine the very day. I registered my protest. She told me that she forgot all about it and that she was sorry.  I still felt irritated that she chose not to tell me about what was supposedly the biggest news for any B School student in the first year. Disappointed as I was, I decided to let it rest. I realized that the lesser I cared, the better I felt. You get hurt only when you care and when you expect. Without care and expectations, there won’t be any hurt. But, it was easier said than done for my mind kept thinking about her every day. I had to fight a battle every day to keep it under control.

New Year 2012:

The four of us had come on a trip to Darjeeling. The idea was to witness snow for the first time in our lives and we did. Though it was a memorable trip, I could not take Gaga off my mind. I kept thinking of her every now and then. I had messaged her about the trip and she just did not respond. I realized that her exams might be going on. Still, it irked me. 

Ananya stayed close to my side throughout the trip. Though I liked her presence, I felt that I should not provide fodder for her feelings, which was kinda very apparent now. On New Year’s Eve, when we all wished each other, Ananya openly hugged me in the presence of the other two. I did not return the hug and felt embarrassed. That afternoon, I got a message from Gayu wishing me a Happy New Year. I just replied with a one word ‘Thanks’.  I felt distraught when my mind raced back to New Year 2010. I hated Gayu back then. Now again, I hated her and was angry with her. But the only difference was that, now my hate sprung from a deep love within. 

Ashwin and Sahana realized what was going on in Ananya’s mind and spoke to me about it. I was honest with them and told them all that had happened. Sahana warned me that I was treading on a dangerous path and that it could all get so complicated if I did not make it clear to Ananya, as she might be harbouring false hopes. I realized the truth in her words and decided to talk to Ananya about it very soon.

The next day, we returned to Ahmedabad. Once I was back in my room, I decided to message Gaga. I messaged her asking if she remembers me. She replied saying as to how could she forget me. She then told me about a quiz that she witnessed at her institute the previous day and she told me that had I been there, I’d have simply aced it. She knew me well and she knew exactly what she should say to make me calm down. She played her cards well with the talk about the quiz. I could not get angry at her after that for sure. We exchanged messages for about 30 mins, when I felt the need to talk to her. So, I called her and she picked up. I told her about the Darjeeling trip and told her that I had got a rare key chain for her. She thanked me. Surprisingly, she even took the fact that Ananya was there with me on the trip, well. When everything was going well, all of a sudden, she told me that she found some boys in her batch to be really cute and were the perfect gentlemen that she had always dreamt of. I felt taken aback but tried to sound casual by teasing her about it and asking her not to forget me. She replied with a “Let’s see” and ended the call with a “Good Night”. Whether she said that just to irk me in response to Ananya accompanying me on the trip or whether she had other intentions behind saying it, I did not know. But it surely spoilt the remainder of that day for me.


January 14th, 2012:

It was Sankaranthi/Pongal. The four of us celebrated Pongal at a function that had been organized by a local cultural association. The past ten days were not the best for me as Gaga’s words kept troubling me. “There are some very interesting guys here Akshay. Real gentlemen. The sort I always dreamt of.”

Was it an indication for me to back off and break away? Was she discretely telling me that it was time I forget her and moved on? I really did not know and my mind was troubled.  I sent her messages everyday but hardly got any replies. The bubble was finally burst on the day of Pongal. I sent a message wishing her and pleaded with her to reply. I don’t know if I ever caved in so much in my life before. She replied with the following message:

Happy Pongal Akshay! I want to tell you something. Why do you keep sending me so many messages? I think it’s high time you realize that we give ourselves a break. I am not suggesting anything radical right now, but I feel that we need to take some time off each other to see where things are headed, for I honestly don’t think it’s working in the present way. Plus, seeing all the wonderful guys here, my mind does get swayed at times and I am beginning to wonder if I acted in haste, with respect to you. We’ll still keep in touch, but let’s understand our differences and realize where we are. Hope you take this in the right sense. Wishing you the best always!
Regards,
Gaga

That’s when it hit me hard. Is this a break-up? Or is she suggesting that we take a break? I was reminded of Ross Geller’s ‘We were on a break!’ from FRIENDS. I simply felt numb that day and I went to sleep. 

The next day:

The next day, Ananya came to my room. Before I could tell her anything, she spoke.

“Akshay, I want to tell you something. You probably know this already, but it’s high time I say it. I love you Akshay! Yes, I do. Not today, not yesterday, but ever since the day we first met, I liked you. I was disappointed when I learnt that you had a girlfriend. But soon after, I just kept liking you. The help you rendered while I was sick, made me fall for you totally. I know this could be very complicated given your situation with Gayu, but then, like I said, you deserve better Akshay. You need to be happy and I don’t see you happy. Nearly 50 guys had proposed to me in my life so far. But this is the first time, I am proposing to someone. And you’re the one. So I request you to consider my proposal and accept it.” 

She finished it all in a single breath. 

I didn’t know how to react. They say when one door closes, another opens. Was this the opportunity that God has provided me with? But then, I closed my eyes and thought for 2 full minutes and replied.

“Ananya, thank you so much for that! You are such a sweet girl. You deserve to be loved. Purely. With all the heart. That is something that I cannot provide you with. My mind is pre-occupied with thoughts about Gaga. Even if we break-up completely, I don’t think that I can take her off my mind completely. That’s the beauty of one’s first love. You’re a wonderful girl and you deserve total love. I can’t give you that and I am not ready for that. Atleast yet. Even now, I think back and take inspiration from the words you had spoken to me. So let us just be the good friends that we are. We’ll see where it goes. Hope you understand.”

I did not feel ashamed to blatantly copy a dialogue from a Tamil film called VTV and use it in a real life situation. But yeah, Gautam Menon, the director of the film, helped me at that instance.  

“Thank you Akshay! I totally understand. I sorta expected the same answer from you. But couldn’t you have been more original? Even I had watched VTV” she winked.

We both had a hearty laugh. I knew I did the right thing and I felt happy. That day, I pored over some of my old conversations with Gaga on FB, Whatsapp and in the mails. I realized how much I had changed because of her. Though I did not have a cause for complaint, I felt that it was high time that I did the things I liked as was suggested by Ananya. I should not obsess over Gaga and limit our conversations to a minimum. This way, I won’t be affected much by her ignoring me or any fights that may happen. I felt a fresh breath of energy once I decided those things within myself.


The next 2 and a half months: 

The next 2 and half months, I decided to concentrate on the things I was good at. I decided to participate in many quiz competitions. I participated in all the contests that I could lay my eyes on – both online and offline. I dragged Ashwin along in all those contests and the girls came on to cheer us whenever time permitted. This way, we participated in a huge number of competitions and managed to win prizes in a significant number of them. I felt good about myself and felt very positive. During this time, I never spoke to Gaga, but only messaged her a few times. On all occasions, she promptly replied and it felt good. I realized that this was the person that I wanted to be and not the one who pleads for Gaga’s replies and gets disturbed by needless thoughts about her. This way, Term 3 ended very well and it was time for our Summer Internships. Strangely enough, I learnt that Gaga was also given a project in Delhi. I didn’t know how to react, but I realized that this presented me with an opportunity to patch up things with her. Feeling good, I took off to Delhi on March 31st, 2012.

April – May, 2012:

Summer Internships in Delhi. I stayed in IIT Delhi campus during these two months while Gaga was given an accommodation in HUL Guest House. The presence of Ashwin and the two girls had helped me a lot in overcoming thoughts about Gaga over the past two months. But now that they weren’t around and I was all alone, the thoughts about her came rushing back. I slipped back to my old ways and started messaging her daily. She replied, but not on a consistent basis. She was busy with her project, while my project was comparatively light. I asked her if we could meet some time. She agreed and we met for dinner one night at Connaught Place. But strangely enough, the dinner felt very uncomfortable as I felt that something was missing. The old feeling of proximity was certainly missing and I felt a little awkward. She felt comfortable enough and she kept talking to me about the people at her workplace and those at IIM B. I did not feel like returning the conversation and just kept listening. Once it was done, I paid the bill and bid her goodbye. 

I felt like a complete fool that night. I messaged her that night about how she had changed and that she did not feel like the old Gaga that I knew. As an afterthought, I added that I liked the new Gaga equally well. She replied with a ‘Thanks’ and a smiley. I wanted to meet her again but realized that it was going to be difficult as her project involved a lot of travelling. So I kept bombarding her with messages whenever her thought occurred to me. Here again, I did not realize that I was blowing a bubble that was about to burst. Soon enough, it burst. She once again sent a mail to me which more or less resembled the content of her previous such mail. Only change was that she was more critical of me this time around and her words were more stinging with lots of venom. 

I felt devastated on reading that mail. I felt gutted. I had never known more sadness in my life than what I felt that day. Even a break-up would have been easier to take, but this pained me to the core.  I had a couple of friends in IIT Delhi, but I knew exactly what their suggestion would be in such times: Alcohol. Alcohol is never a solution. It only complicates the problem at the cost of your health. So I called the only person who came to my mind who’d help me out at this time without suggesting alcohol as a solution. I called Ashwin. The good friend that he is, he immediately came down to Delhi the next day from Jaipur, where he was based for his project. He told me the same things as Ananya did six months back. He then took me out for a quiz that was being organized by the local Qutub Quiz Club. Quiz is probably the best distraction for a distraught mind. Atleast for me, it was. I felt much better after the quiz and we managed to finish third in the quiz. The previous day was the lowest I had ever been. I had never sought out someone like this to help me ever before. That’s when I decided to give it all a rest and carry on with my life. I resolved that I’d never call or message Gaga again and would only respond if she messaged or called. I had made similar resolutions in the past, only to break them soon. But this time, something told me that I was going to stick with it and not break it. 

The Second Year: 

I finished my project and came home to Coimbatore for a week. Every place I went in Coimbatore reminded me of her in one way or the other. The bout of nostalgia was overwhelming me. Yet, I somehow fought off the urge to call her or message her. I left for Ahmedabad at the end of the week. I felt that I was stronger in my resolve this time around and that I was not going to cave in. At the end of June, she sent me a message saying that she was in Coimbatore and that her project went well and that she might get an offer from the company. She then asked me how I was and how my project went. I replied with two words – “All fine”. With that she did not message me again for the next 10 days. And I did not feel the need to message her. Despite this avoidance, I was following her updates regularly on the social media. 

On July 10th, 2012, she messaged to a group in whatsapp that we were a part of, that she had got an offer from HUL and that she was accepting it. Though I felt happy for her, I did not like that she had to inform that in a group. That’s the most impersonal way of conveying news. I’d have heartily congratulated her had she messaged me personally. But this time, I just ignored as if I had not noticed it, while the others in the group congratulated her. I got my offer too from Amazon, but I did not feel like telling her. So I just left it. Once again, I decided to concentrate on my interests and I started participating in quizzes again. 

The month of August saw a twist as she messaged me. I replied in one or two words like usual. Realizing that she had hurt me a lot, she messaged me apologies. The tables were turned! Though I ignored a couple of them, I could not ignore the third message. This is the weakness with guys. They cannot say no to a girl. Especially if the girl pleads for something, no guy would say no to her. I was no different. I broke my resolution and messaged her saying that I accept her apology and that she need not worry and that everything was fine. She was overjoyed on seeing that and told me that she felt relieved now. The games men and women play, you see. 

Since then, it was kinda smooth sailing with her. We never spoke too much nor did we message a lot. I maintained a distance, not knowing if the relationship was still alive. All I knew was that she wasn’t my enemy now and I just liked the way things were without the need to prod her for a commitment that was non-existent in the first place, and that she was unwilling to give. Every now and then, I did see pics of her on Facebook and Kaushik did feature in a lot of them. I decided not to let it affect me. If Kaushik was the person she wanted in her life, so be it. Let me just fade away from her life like I already have. My only concern was that she deserved a good guy, even if it was not me. I felt proud of the way I had matured over the past few months to even come up with a thought like this.

With Ananya too, it was all fine as she realized how she acted when she was emotionally down. She thanked me profusely saying that I could have easily taken advantage of her emotional state of mind, but I did not. She complimented me saying that I acted like a real gentleman and that she was proud of me. She repeated the old dialogue saying that I deserved the best, whoever it may be. I felt good and the four of us were back to being the best buddies that we always were.

On the other hand, Gaga started messaging me very frequently. Perhaps, she was missing me! Or was she? I did not care for if she really wanted something with me, she’d talk to me. I was tired of being the initiator and getting hurt in the process. But I liked that she was giving me the attention that was absent over the past year. I did not wish to press it lest I spoil it. So, I let it be, as it was. Soon enough, 2012 came to an end and 5 trimesters were done. We were all in the final trimester and it’ll all be over in another 2 months. Placements happened and since I already got the offer from Amazon, I was pretty relaxed. The other 3 got placed well too and we celebrated the New Year in the campus with much grandeur. 

One gloomy winter morning in January 2013, I woke up with a start. I just had a nightmare. In that dream, Gaga was marrying some guy. I could not remember the face of the guy, but it certainly wasn’t me. That’s when the truth dawned on me that she could be married this year. Oh God! All along, I had only imagined her wedding with me, but now there was a strong possibility of that not happening and she marrying some other guy. Once again, my mind felt disturbed. How many times the mind gets disturbed this way when you are in love, I tell you! Never fall in love if you’re not prepared to handle these disturbances. 

I called Gaga. Surprisingly, she picked up. Excitedly she asked me where I got placed. That’s when I realized that I had not told her about the offer from Amazon. So I told her as though I had got the offer only recently. She was overjoyed for me. It felt like the day we spoke of our CAT scores. I felt happy and asked her what her plans were in the coming days. She told me that her course would end in a month, just like mine, and that she had two months time to kill at home before HUL called her for joining. I wanted to ask her what after that, but stopped short for I was not prepared for an answer that I did not want to hear. 

Soon enough, our courses were done and we all graduated. The Convocation Ceremony was an emotional one for the four of us as we became so close to each other. Our parents had come and they were proud of their wards. At the end of the day, we took a break and hung out in the campus. Just the four of us. One last time. We hugged each other and bade our goodbyes. We resolved that we’ll surely be in touch. Ofcourse, we’d be. But it won’t be the same. For one last time, they asked me about Gaga. I told them that by now, I was clear headed and am open to anything. I had also informed my parents that things did not quite work out well with her as I had thought it would. I also told them that there’s still a possibility of the two of us working things out, but the hopes were slim. They consoled me saying that whatever happens, happens for the best. Parents are your biggest source of strength. Never let them down.

After IIM:

The month following the convocation, I roamed around from place to place exploring new locales, meeting people, meeting friends and relatives, and spending time with myself. I felt refreshed and energized. It was time to join Amazon. They had asked me to report in Mumbai, while Gaga was joining HUL in Bangalore. We kept messaging on and off, but nothing concrete was happening at either end. 

On May 3rd, 2013, I got a call from her. I was in office. She told me that she wanted to talk to me. I told her that she could call me in the evening. At 9 PM that night, I got a call from her. She sounded anxious and a little disturbed.

“What’s it Gayu? What’s the matter?”

“Akshay, my parents have started talking about my marriage” she said in a shaky voice.

“So?”

“Akshay, do you understand? They want me to get married soon.”

“So what Gayu? It’s about time, isn’t it? What’s the problem?”

“Idiot! Do you realize what I am talking here? Are you ready for it?”

“Me? Why should I be ready for it?”

“Akshay!! Stop kidding! I am serious! What about us Akshay? Us?”

“Oh, there’s ‘us’ is it? So you want to marry me do you? That’s a surprise!”

“AKSHAY!” she shouted. “Why are you doing this to me?”

“Why am I doing what Gayu? You were the one who asked for a break. You were the one who kept ignoring my calls. You were the one who did not reply to my messages. You were the one who spoke of acting in haste. You were the one who spoke of nice gentlemen at your institute. You were the one who did not share any good news with me. And now you want things to be as normal as they were? What am I supposed to do in this case Gayu? Tell me. Hurt Gayu. Hurt. I’ve been hurt enough. I am not sure if I want to go through that again.”

“O Akshay… please… this is not the time. I know I had not been very kind to you. But it was all because of the work pressure Akshay. You’re also from an IIM. You’d understand, don’t you? The work pressure drained me out emotionally. I was not able to handle it all well. I did not know where to take it all out. So I took it out on you. I vented my anger on you from time to time. You were my pillow. You were my punching bag. I knew you’d take it for me. I thought our relationship could take it all. I thought you’d understand Akshay. I did not want to divulge all this for I felt that you knew me and you’d understand. I am really sorry Akshay. I am really sorry.”

By now, she started crying. But I was not going to cave in. Would I?

“Gayu, but I thought you had your best buddies for all that. That loafer Kaushik and what was the other guy’s name? Oh yeah… Aditya. Why do you need me when you have them? They can be your punching bag. Spare me the trouble.”

Hearing that, she composed herself. “So is this what it’s all about? You suspect me? Fine! If you don’t want to  marry me, I don’t care. I can marry one of them or many others who proposed to me over the past 2 years. But before I leave, just tell me this. Think for a moment, look deep within yourself and tell me that you no longer love me. I’ll leave then.”

There was no need for thinking. My mind was full of her. I was head over heels in love with her, despite all that had happened over the past 2 years. Still, I thought for a moment. All that it mattered to me was that I loved her. As much as I did on the day she proposed to me or the day she said ‘I love you’ to me. Yet, I lied to her.  “No Gayu. I don’t love you anymore.”

It’s all ego, you see. Ego is the single most important factor in any relationship. My ego was very bloated now and it’s not going to calm down any sooner. Initially, it was all her ego and I was the one who was caving in and giving in. The moment my ego gained the stronghold, it was not going to give in easily. Successful relationships are the ones that negate the egos and overcome the part played by them. At some point of time, one person or the other has to give in and make some minor compromises and sacrifices. There are no perfect relationships. It’s all about how you overcome your ego and let love rule. 

With that last sentence, she cut the call. I felt bad, but did not cave in. Again ego, you see. 

The next four months, I immersed myself totally in work just to forget her. Yet it was an attempt in futility as her thoughts kept coming to me all day. I did feel bad about talking that way to her and wanted to call and apologize, but my ego did not allow me to. I do have a bloated ego, atleast in relationships, you see. 

Ashwin visited me during one of these four months. He was working with BCG in Bangalore and he had some assignment in Mumbai. He stayed with me for three days and that lifted my spirits a bit. As was the habit, we went to a quiz that happened in the city and managed to bag a prize. He asked me about Gaga and I told him that it was all over. He asked me why and I told him all that had happened. He was mad at me for what I did, but did not show it. He silently left after 3 days.


Back to the Present Day – October 28th, 2013:

I was totally gutted by the turn of events. Yes, I was the one who was responsible for all that, yet in a corner of my mind, I always had this feeling that Gayu would never leave. Now my mind was blaming me. Well, you asked for it. Suffer now! 

I suddenly felt the need to talk to Gayu and pour everything out. Was it too late for that? Was she engaged? I didn’t know. I opened the invitation and to my relief, found that the engagement was scheduled to happen the next day evening and the wedding was in a couple of days? Why so much hurry, I thought. But I did not bother. I definitely need to talk to Gayu once, before the engagement positively. I immediately booked the tickets for a flight early next morning and mailed a leave letter to my boss, who was kind enough to grant me the same since I had mentioned that it was an emergency.

I was reminded of the scene from ‘FRIENDS’ where Rachel rushes in the last minute to stop Ross’s wedding to Emily. But of late, it was I who was acting like Ross, denying the feelings I had for my Rachel.

October 29th, 2013 – Bangalore:

My flight was delayed by two hours and it landed at Bangalore at 2 PM. I wasted no time and took a taxi straight to the marriage hall, which was near Kormangala. I reached the marriage hall by 4 PM. I searched the whole place for Gayu but could not find her. 

Just when I was about to walk out, Ashwin walked in. What was he doing here? More surprise followed as the girls – Ananya and Sahana walked in. What the hell is all this? How did they know about this wedding? Had Gayu invited them too? They walked in unsurprised on seeing me. Did they know that I was coming? How come?

My mind was buzzing with all these questions when Gayu walked in. She was elegantly dressed in a beautiful saree. Boy, she looked beautiful! I could just stand there all day looking at her. She walked up to me.

“Thanks for coming to the ceremony Akshay! I knew you’d come. I hope you’re staying for the wedding too?”

“Gayu… Gayu… I need to talk to you.”

“About what?”

“Gayu… Gayu… I… I… I love you!”

At this, Ashwin and Gayu burst out laughing while the girls fumed.

“I told you…I told you that he won’t read it. Now that’s a bet won. Get us our Rs.500” Ashwin said looking at the girls and he hi-fived with Gayu. 

What was happening? I was perplexed!

Ananya angrily looked at me. “Idiot! Can’t you even read what’s written in the notice board? Can’t you even see the names written there? Idiot! You cost me 500 bucks and you owe me that.”

I looked at the huge Notice Board in the hall. In it was written in huge block letters “Kaushik weds Sharanya”. Oh God! How did I miss that? I was perhaps too busy searching for Gayu that I failed to notice it. So what does this mean? Gayu is not marrying Kaushik? Was this all a set-up to bring me here? And did these three have a part to play in it? I looked around. Gayu took out her tab and showed me a few pics. They were pics from a notebook. No a diary. Oh wait! These were pics from my diary! How come?

Here’s something about me that I did not tell you. I have the habit of writing a diary. I update it every day with some thoughts and events from that day. Over the past 2- 3 years, the diary had nothing but my thoughts about Gaga. Every single day. So I named it ’Gaga Chronicles’. I wanted to show it to her and gift it to her some day. Looks like it found its way pretty soon on its own. I wondered how, since none of them knew that I had one such diary.

That’s when Ashwin chipped in.

“When I came to Mumbai, I was distraught on hearing your story. I felt that I should do something to patch things up between you both. That’s when I saw that you were writing something in a diary before you went to sleep. The next morning, I flicked the diary from your cupboard without you noticing. I took it to office and went through a few pages. I realized how much you loved Gaga and the folly of all that you were doing because of your bloated ego. So I scanned the entire diary and brought it back without you noticing. Once back in Bangalore, I called the girls and informed them about all that you had done. We decided that we should send Gayu the scanned copy, so that she’d get to know what’s in your mind. We sent her the diary explaining how it’s all you ego that stood in the way of you both. She read it and she sought our help to get you out of your shackles. That’s when she informed us about this wedding of her friend Kaushik with his girlfriend. I got an idea then and we planned this whole set-up.”

“But what about the invitation?”

“One invitation card from this wedding and 30 mins of Photoshop work did the trick” Ashwin winked. 

“So you all knew, when I sent you the whatsapp message yesterday?”

“Ofcourse we knew!” they chorused. 

“Not only that, we did not even change the name of the girl’s parents in the invitation card. And you fell for it.” Sahana laughed. 

I opened the mail and found that indeed the girl’s parents' names were different. Whatta fool I had been!

“We checked with your apartment attendant this morning and he informed us that you were on your way to Bangalore. We knew then that you had fallen for it. We had a bet that you wouldn’t even notice the names on the Notice Board when you came in and we were right” Ashwin said.

They all laughed loudly. 

So it was all a well laid-out plan! How did I fall for it? Such an idiot I had been!

I then looked at Gaga. She looked at me.

“So you love me, huh? Do you want to marry me?” she asked me in a mocking voice. The tables were turned again. The ball was in her court now.

“Oh yes, Gayu! I do. I really do. With all my heart. I have been such an idiot to deny that. You saw it for yourself today” I said. “But wait!” I thought about my parents and her parents.

Reading my mind perfectly, she said “Both our parents know. They have been informed. It’s your decision that matters now.”

“Oh wow! I do want to marry you Gayu! I really love you! I really do!”

“But what if I reject you now?” she asked.

“Then I’ll marry Ananya here” I said and I winked at her.

At this, she mockingly slapped me and planted a peck on my cheek. I hugged her and kissed her on the forehead. The others cheered. I felt like Ross then. I should never let her go again. Never ever. 

Gaga … my dear Gaga… my dearest Gaga…

The climax was all so cinematic. Happens only in fiction. The reality could be a lot different. Yet, sometimes reality is more surprising than fiction.I wonder if the scene had been lifted straight from some Indian movie. Or perhaps from a Chetan Bhagat novel. Or from the silly story of some wannabe IIM writer, writing it sitting in some remote town called Kashipur.

Should be the third one…these silly wannabe IIM writers, I tell you…

-Ashwin Murali