“I’ve heard that site is a total killer!”Bhaskar overhears his younger colleagues’ chit-chatting about the internet, AGAIN!
‘’Ask me about it, last night, I went out with this totally hot-chick to Social, Nehru Place, man, did we have a blast or what!”, said another familiar voice in a slightly exaggerated tone.
“Sounds so exciting! I can’t wait to try plentyoffish.com”, jumped in another voice.
“What a bunch of losers! They have nothing but women and drinks to discuss. What has happened to this generation”, Bhaskar thinks reprovingly to himself as he walks back from the smoking room.
All of 46 years, Bhaskar Anand has worked in this same office for the past 20 years. People came and went, but he stayed on here since eternity. Does he love his work that much? Well he does enjoy it, but it was all the more special as he met the love of his life in this same office, the one person he could do anything for, but, now, he contemplated leaving the place, as the person who he so dearly loved was snatched away from him in cruel mishap.
A slight tear escapes his deep-set eyes, the brown eyes which once were filled with happiness are now void. A single look at Bhaskar is enough to know that he was quite a handsome lad in his hay-days. His taut body, the slightly curly salt and pepper hair, the coffee-colour skin, broad shoulders and sinewy arms are enough proof for one to know what a catch he might have been.
Evening rolls in, this part of the day he dreads the most, as he has to go back to an empty house with nothing to look forward. Every single thing in the house, reminds him of the wonderful memories Shanta and him had created over the years. He enters the house with a sense of loneliness within. He had always been reserved but with Shanta’s untimely demise he had become a recluse. His life is nothing but a routine to him now. After having barely eaten dinner, Bhaskar goes on to complete the residual office work online.
As he browses through the mails, an Ad catches his eye. “Oh! It’s that wretched site they were talking about in the afternoon, let me see what this site is all about! ”Bhaskar convinces himself not admitting that the site had piqued his curiosity. He clicks on it, not knowing yet, how this one action would change his life forever. Bhaskar, finds himself registering on the website he critiqued a few minutes ago, filling in the details truthfully, except his name.
“What if someone from the office finds me on this website? What answers do I give them? Let me keep a different name, that way no one will ever find out.’’ For the world he is Bhaskar, but for this site alone, he changes his name to Govind. Bhaskar, is clueless about this sudden move from his side, he considers it a moment of weakness and is about to delete his account, when he comes across a profile bearing the name, Archana.
Her profile seems so interesting, Bhaskar finds himself drawn to this faceless stranger’s profile, and the description reads “42, Home-maker, baker, Mother of two, single.” He somehow connects to this person and on a whim, he types in a safe “Hello” to Archana, waiting nervously for her reply.
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“Hello” Archana reads the notification on her phone. Wondering what it is, she calls her nephew, “Sambhavvvv! Come here quick!”
“Yo! What happenin’ here, Bhua?” he replies, sounding all dapper and rapper-like!
“What is the plentyoffish? Why is this Govind guy sending me a message?” she enquires.
“Relax, Bhua! It’s a dating website. It will help you pass time, it’s the shizz now!” Sambhav sings excitedly.
“I don’t care. Had you asked me permission, I would’ve said no right away. I’m too old for all this dating-shating. Besides, I am not interested, Sambhav.” she replies curtly, trying to keep her calm.
“That’s precisely why I didn’t ask you, Bhua. How long has it been since you’ve stepped out the house? Siddharth and Anya are worried too! We thought this would help.” Sambhav says his voice a mere whisper now.
“That’s so thoughtful of you, Sambhav baby. I know you are worried about me, but trust me, I am fine”, her anger now dissipating, she envelopes her handsome nephew in a bear hug.
“Bhua, it has been five years now. It’s high time you start living for yourself now. But I won’t force you, if you aren’t comfortable. I’ll just delete the app. No biggie!” Sambhav replies, slightly disappointed.
“’Sambhuuu! Wait, This person has messaged me, it would be rude if I don’t reply. I’ll tell him I am not interested and delete the app myself” still smiling, as she now opens the message.
“Hello” she typed hesitatingly, thinking of a way to put the man down without hurting him.
Before, she could continue, a message pops in, “Thank God that you replied. This is my first time, I am not good at this. I am sorry if I intruded your personal space. I understand if you don’t want to converse further. Kindly ignore the message”
Archana, couldn’t help but smile, fairly good at typing herself, she continued the thread,
“Well, that makes two of us!”
Archana, doesn’t know why she typed that. She is touched by Govind’s honesty. She quickly checks his profile, something strikes when she reads his description “46, engineer, widowed.’’ She is wary about him and this dating website, but a gut feeling told her that he is whom he portrays himself to be.
She waits for another reply, but nothing comes. “Great! The first man I talk to in years, doesn’t reply” she thinks to herself. After 30 minutes, she gives up finally and goes on to complete her chores. She doesn’t delete the app, having an iota of hope that this stranger may get back sometime.
Archana hums as she goes on with her work, distractedly. Her mind goes back to five years ago, the time her world came crashing down. Five years ago, Mihir and her parted ways. The red flags were there for all to see, but like a typical Indian wife she decided to stay in this marriage for the sake of her two children. Hers had been an arranged one, they had been family friends for years and decided to take the relationship forward. The initial years of marriage were a bliss, Mihir was a caring and loving husband, then came her two most precious angels and changed everything. Mihir became aloof and non-committal. He was barely seen at home, he would go early in the morning and come back late. Archana, though disappointed, never showed it out. Years of conditioning had told her that divorce was a big taboo in the Indian society. When Mihir broke the news, she was devastated, but relieved at the same time. It was given that she would keep custody of her children. It was hard and heart-breaking, but being the strong woman she is, she raised her children wonderfully, in the way forgetting to love herself.
People pitied her, but no one ever showed any affection. However, Archana didn’t let it affect her. Her inner beauty reflected outside too. She was a homely person welcoming everyone with a warm smile always. Fairly-rounded, with wavy black hair, beautiful almond eyes with thick arched eye-brows and a supple skin. Archana didn’t look her age at all!
After she finishes her chores, she goes back to check her phone, only to be disappointed. “Oh! Stop it, silly! For all you know it may be some young man trying to make a fool out of me”, she tells herself and vows to delete the app tomorrow, unwillingly to let go of this stranger, yet.
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‘’OK! I don’t know what to do. I should’ve never sent her a text in the first place. God, I have made a fool of myself” he frowns at himself.
Shutting down his laptop, he tries to go to sleep. It is a restless one, he couldn’t keep the stranger out of his head. The next morning, he wakes with a mild headache, promising to himself that he would end it all today. He goes about his routine, but he isn’t able to name the feeling he is experiencing. Is it anxiety? Is it fear? He couldn’t tell. The entire day at work, he isn’t able to concentrate at all, a strange feeling grips his heart.
As evening approaches, his stance weakens. He caves and decides to message Archana again. “How I do begin the conversation? What reason do I tell for not replying?” he panics now.
He types and types, but nothing seems right, on what seems like his zillionth attempt, He decides to say;
“Hi, I apologize for abandoning the conversation last night. An urgent work came up and I wasn’t able to get back to you. Hope you understand”
He waits for a reply half-heartedly, not expecting this woman to get back to him. To his surprise, a few moments later, a message blinks;
“No problem at all, I understand. Work is worship, eh?”
“Well, sort of”
“Good. So what work do you do?
“Well, I am an engineer, I have been working for the past twenty years. I read that you’re a baker, that’s great, cause I love to eat”, Govind replies trying to break the ice.
“Haha! That’s a good one! I am not as great as the new age fancy bakers though.”
“Old is Gold” he says now, trying to keep the conversation flowing.
With that sentence, they break the ice. The messages go on for an hour, both of them seem to enjoy the company and for a while forgetting about their worries. They end the conversation by befriending each-other and go to sleep with a smile that night.
This becomes a routine. Every evening, Govind/Bhaskar and Archana exchange messages about anything and everything under the sun. They talk about their likes, dislikes, the new generation and the changing society, her children as Bhaskar is childless, their deepest fears and their happiest moments etc, carefully avoiding the topic of their respective marriages. It’s too soon, they feel.
Did they have feelings for each other? Time will tell, they think to themselves. For now, they are happy being each-other’s confidante and guide. She is his escape to his rather dull life, she manages to break all the barriers and understands him without any biases and he is her best friend that she never had. At times, they have doubts about each-other and themselves as well. They question whether this is the right to do, to trust someone they have never met, to be so open about their life. But they figure they have nothing to lose and continue chatting.
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Three months later
The notions about the trust and doubt have now vanished. They have become a part of each other, the evening routine continues, but the conversation has grown deeper. They now talk about the marriage, providing support and helping the other to cope up with the situation. They call their friendship “Therapeutic”.
They haven’t met each other, they don’t know how the other looks like, and neither do they want to know. They like things the way they are, being each other’s candle in the darkest days. They are content and don’t expect anything more from eachother.
Well, Archana, although she tried to refrain herself, is slowly beginning to fall in love with him… She is scared to tell him that, as she feels she may lose a friend forever.
Bhaskar, on the other hand, fears two things;
One, How does he tell Archana his real name? He tried to tell her many a time, but decided against it, as she may stop talking when she hears of this.
Two, How can he stop himself from getting attracted to her? He now feels strangely possessive about her, he cannot begin to think about her not being in his life. When he is not texting her, he misses her, when she cries, he feels her pain and wants to make it go away.
None of them intended for this to happen, they were at a point in life where all they needed was a friend and now they seem to be besotted with each other. However, they never show it to each-other, each one thinking that maybe the other would hint at a romantic relationship.
One day, while chatting, Archana finds Govind’s behaviour slightly off, worried,
She asks, “Govind, is everything okay? You seem a bit worried.”
Taking cue, Govind replies, “Archana, I have to tell you something, but you need to promise you will hear me out, Can you do that?”
“Sure! Tell me, Govind.”
“Well, my real name is not Govind. I registered on this site on a whim, I tried to tell you many times, but was always afraid to do so. My intention was not to cheat you Archana, I hope you understand.” Bhaskar types slowly, expecting an outburst.
“Well, let’s just keep it that way. I am so happy you chose to be honest with me, that’s what I like most about you, Govind. I need to tell you something too.” She replies, scared as hell, for what she is about to do next.
“Well! You aren’t 42, are you?” Govind jokes.
“No silly, well, umm, the thing is…. I think.. I am falling in love with you, Govind” she types knowing it could go either way.
Bhaskar is pleasantly shocked, one could say. To tease her, he types deliberately slowly,
“Yes, Govind” she responds, wondering what was going on his mind.
He is enjoying this, after two whole minutes he puts her out of her misery;
“Archana, I love you too. If you hadn’t told me, I would’ve. You’ve no idea, how happy I am. The past two months have been terrible, I tried to muster the courage, but could never do so. I love you so much, Archana. I am so glad you feel the same way.”
Archana isn’t able to believe her eyes. Is this true? Her fears no longer exist, she pinches herself to check whether this is indeed happening. A huge smile is now plastered across her pink lips, while she tries to compose herself from this wonderful news.
“Govind, I am not able to believe this. I was scared for nothing! I want to dance with joy, I want to see you at this instant and tell you how happy you have made me today’’ her hands shake in excitement as she types this.
“What are we waiting for? Let us meet, I am dying to meet the person who makes each day so much better” Govind visualizes Archana and him dancing together.
“When? Gosh! I’m so stoked!” pat comes the reply.
“Tomorrow? 6 p.m at Rose Café, M.G Road?”
“Can’t wait, my love! Can’t wait.”
“But how do I recognize you? Let us stick with the age old tradition of wearing colours, what say?”
“That’s crazy! But everything until here has been crazy. You wear a blue shirt, whereas I will wear a yellow dress. Done?’’
“Done, baby. Now all we have to do is wait for the clock to turn 6,Tomorrow. Don’t know how I would get through the day.”
“Patience, Govind. Good night. Waiting to see you.”
“Good night, my love!”
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Rose Café, 5.30 P.M.
Unable to contain the excitement, Archana reaches half-an-hour early. Winter is settling in, so she decides to wear a black jacket on top of the yellow chiffon dress along with a black and white polka-dotted scarf. Archana looks resplendent in her outfit, glowing and blushing, waiting anxiously for the clock to strike 6.00.
Feeling restless, Archana decides to order a hazelnut cappuccino to soothe her nerves. She carefully places the jacket on the chair and walks up to the counter. She places her order and goes back to the table. In a few minutes, her order will be ready, she is told, just then, a lean waiter arrives with her coffee….
“Arrrghhh!” Archana screams! The poor little waiter has spilt the hazelnut coffee all over her chiffon dress. She rushes into the ladies room with her handbag. Just as she is about to enter the room, she sees a handsome man wearing a blue shirt, carrying a laptop bag. She froze… it can’t be him. It possibly can’t be Antu!
She rushes into the room and is hyper-ventilating. Her breathing becomes ragged. “Is it really him? How is this possible?” she wonders. She composes herself and goes to meet Antu. Despite the cold, a tiny sweat escapes her forehead, her palms clammy and her cheeks flushed.
As Bhaskar, sees her in her yellow-dress, he too is in for a shock.
“What are you doing here?” they ask each other at the same time, unable to believe the current situation.
They stare at each-other for a while, recollecting the memories of the past. Bhaskar Anand, lovingly called Antu by family and friends alike and Nandini (Archana’s maiden name) were friends. It didn’t take them much time to fall in love. They were 19, living in the same locality and had been friends for the longest time. For Nandini, Antu was her world and she could do anything for him, if he had asked her for her life she would’ve gladly given it to him.
Bhaskar, on the other hand, was struggling to give a name to this relationship. It was no doubt that he liked her, felt protective about her, cared about her, but love? He wasn’t very sure. He didn’t want to break Nandu’s heart and thought he would fall in love with her eventually. Everything went well, until the day he met Shanta. The moment he lay his eyes on her, he knew it was love, but, how could he tell Nandu this? For a while, he tried to supress his feelings towards Shanta, but when he couldn’t take it anymore, he wrote a letter to Nandu, saying he couldn’t do it, he never really loved her. It was cowardly, he knew, but he just couldn’t face her.
Nandu on the other hand, was broken completely, she contemplated taking her life many a time. She was still in shock, how could Antu leave her so unceremoniously? What did she do wrong? She often wondered. Soon enough, she was married to Mihir and decided to give her a marriage a fair chance, forgetting about Antu, but a slight pain always lingered in her heart.
“This cannot be happening!” Archana almost yells as she makes her way out of the café.
“Wait, Nandu..uh.. Archana”, Bhaskar follows her.
“I know what I did cannot be forgiven. I was young and I was in love, you know how I felt about Shanta, we’ve spoken about it. I am sorry, Nandu. I really am.. I hope you can forgive me” Bhaskar says, feeling truly sorry.
“I… I… don’t know what to say. You broke my heart into a thousand pieces. How can I let that go?” Archana replies, trying to hold back her tears.
“Give me a chance, Nandu. Let me undo what has been done. I truly love you and I cannot imagine a life without you.” Bhaskar answers, his tone now gentle and caring.
“It took me so much time to heal. What if you leave me again? I cannot deal with heartbreak all over again.” Archana whispers, not stopping her tears now.
“I won’t, Nandu. I promise. I will love you and take care of you till the day I die” Bhaskar, cupping her round face and planting a small kiss on her forehead. Archana, unable to bear it anymore, breaks down and falls into his shoulders. The world seems to stop there and at that moment, they feel complete and peaceful like all the miseries have melted away and they can live happily together.
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Rose café, 6.25 p.m.
“Ma’am, is everything okay? You’ve been in the bathroom for more than half an hour” a knock on the door breaking Archana’s stupor.
Oh! It had been her imagination all along. She never went back to meet Antu.
Archana, opens the door slightly and replies, “Yes, I am fine dear. The waiter spilt coffee on me and I have been trying hard to remove the stain, but to no avail. Can you do me a favour?”
“Yes, sure ma’am! Please tell me”, answers the waitress on the other side.
“I can’t go out like this, can you get me my jacket and scarf, dear?” Archana asks sweetly, pointing to the table where she kept her scarf and jacket.
The waitress comes back in no time and hands over her belongings. Archana thanks the sweet woman profusely, asking her again for yet another favour, “I was supposed to attend a meeting, but I can’t afford to be seen like this, I’ve kept my mobile at home, will you be kind enough to pass this note to that gentleman over there? He will know what it is about.” she requests her, pointing towards Antu.
“Well, umm, sure”, the waitress responds hesitantly.
Archana takes a pen and paper from her bag, scribbles something on it and gives it to the waitress. She then covers her head with scarf and puts on her jacket. She peaks outside the washroom door and sneaks out surreptitiously, being very careful about not being noticed.
Bhaskar glances at his watch for the umpteenth time, wondering why Archana is late, hoping that everything is alright. Just then, a waitress, comes in and places a note in front of him. A woman in the yellow dress had requested her to hand it to him, the waitress says. As he reads the note, the smile on his face disappears, his body becomes numb and it feels as though someone has sucked the air from his lungs.
The note reads,
Revenge is a dish best served cold. This is for breaking my heart. You deserve all the unhappiness in the world.