26 YEARS LATER
A man in his fifties is looking into the mirror. His grey hair, compliment his rugged look. His crisp business suit still suits him, and he has a new companion now, through which he sees the world, a pair of spectacles on his nose! His look is changed, from a clean shaven man, he now supports a classy french cut-beard. He is one of the richest men of the country, but so humble and down to earth. He adjusts the spectacles and looks into the mirror again, this time he can see himself clearly. He runs a finger through his hair, and whispers, ‘Sexy!’ in a long monotonic tone.
‘Shrey…stop admiring yourself and have your breakfast. You’ve grown so old, and you still think you’re a ladies’ man?’ a voice interrupted his thoughts. It was none other than his beloved wife, Akanksha.
Akanksha had also grown old with time. Fine lines and wrinkles were visible on her fair face. Her skin wasn’t as tight as it used to be. Her dressing also changed. From the usual jeans and tops that she used to wear, she had transformed her look into an elegant one. She wore plain cotton sarees. Unlike Shrey, she didn’t have a weak eye-sight, but she did develop arthritis and joint-pain problem. She couldn’t climb the stairs much, so, after the death of Shrey’s parents, they both shifted downstairs and gave the entire first floor to their kids.
Akshan and Nirvaan, were both twenty seven now, and they were married to the girls they loved. Akshan, who was Shrey’s replica, had loved a girl from school, and Shrey made sure his son’s first love, was his son’s wife too, whereas Nirvaan was the shy baby. It took him the entire college life to propose a girl. They both were married on the same day, just at a difference of ten minutes, like their birth. Shrey and Akanksha raised their sons in the best possible manner, on one side, they were connected with the outer-world, they went for parties, boozed, enjoyed, but on the other side, they were still bound to their parents as a tree is bound to its roots. The boys knew the value of each and every thing, Shrey made sure that they became good human beings ‘before’ becoming good businessmen.
‘Tell me, what if we had a daughter instead of both sons?’ Akanksha knew she never asked Shrey this question, but she wanted to know his reaction.
‘Well, if I’d have had a daughter, then she would be staying here, in this house, with her husband, and that too, a guy chosen by me! I wouldn’t have allowed her to date guys, like I allowed my sons. Yeah, you must be thinking what an asshole father I would be, but my daughter would be the most precious thing to me. Sometimes, I think if I’d have had a daughter, things would have changed a lot, like I wouldn’t have flirted with girls or would have taught my sons to go for an arranged marriage as well, for I could never discriminate between my children. But yeah, I’d be hell lot possessive for my princess, or maybe I’d be residing in a mental asylum by now for behaving in the shittiest way possible!’ Shrey chuckled. The answer didn’t satisfy Akanksha much, for she knew Shrey would have been the best Dad, even to a daughter. Just because they didn’t get a chance to raise a daughter, doesn’t mean they couldn’t. If they’d be parents to a daughter, things would have been different, and so would be Shrey!
Akanksha heard some footsteps climbing down the stairs and she got up to see who it was. Akshan and Nirvaan, along with their wives, entered Shrey and Akanksha’s room, and the four of them touch their feet.
‘Happy Anniversary, Dad.’ Akshan hugged Shrey, ‘I can’t believe you guys had an arranged marriage, and are together for thirty years!’
‘Son, you won’t believe many more things! It’s just that, some secrets should remain secrets only…’ Shrey hugged him back.
It was Shrey and Akanksha’s thirtieth wedding anniversary, and they all were going out for lunch.
‘You look just like me, but less handsome.’ Shrey mocked while adjusting his son’s shirt-collar. His habits were still the same. Akanksha smiled, she knew, the man she was in love with, could never grow up!
‘C’mon now, let’s go.’ Akanksha said. They all went to Akanksha’s farm house.
‘Why here, mom?’ Akshan asked.
‘Because, I want to spend this day only with my family, and no one else.’ Akanksha looked at Shrey, who was still busy, looking himself up in the mirror; she smiled and got out of the car.
They all booked the terrace, Akanksha’s favourite place. It was a cold afternoon and the bright sunshine was kissing their bodies.
‘The weather is wonderful today.’ Nirvaan left out a cold sigh.
‘It’s always wonderful here…’ Shrey sighed. He remembered the night when he came here with Abhinav and Natasha, and gulped down eleven cans of beer, and how Akanksha forcefully fed him, time ran by so fast. Twenty six years, and it seemed like yesterday. His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden pat on his shoulder.
‘What are you thinking? About Abhinav and Natasha?’ Akanksha asked.
‘Of course, who else? This place is the beginning of their love-story, after all.’ Shrey looked around, there were huge buildings everywhere. The greenery, this place was loved for, had all vanished. The cemented buildings had eaten up natural beauty of the area.
‘Won’t you ask for a wedding present today, sweetheart?’
‘This is my wedding present.’ Akanksha pointed at their four kids; the two boys and their wives.
‘But, I didn’t forget.’ Shrey took her hand and slid it into the pocket of his trouser, just like he did on Akanksha’s birthday.
‘Shrey…you’re so shameless, the kids are watching.’
‘So what? They themselves are going to be parents soon! C’mon…’
Akanksha fondled the pockets, and found an envelope, ‘What’s this?’
‘You’re still the same, aren’t you? You won’t open it up, but ask me ‘what’s this’?’
Akanksha smiled, opened up the envelope, there were two tickets to Agra and a hotel-booking confirmation slip.
‘Because this is the only place we haven’t visited. I thought, every year we went abroad, we even had a lavish world tour on our silver anniversary, but I don’t know what Taj Mahal really looks like, so why not observe it this time?’
‘Shrey, you know I can’t travel much.’
‘It is all arranged, don’t you worry, now c’mon, let’s have lunch.’
After the lunch, the kids left their parents on the airport, within three hours, Shrey and Akanksha reached Agra. It was cold and foggy evening, they reached the hotel and freshened up. The journey had completely exhausted Akanksha, she preferred to rest, Shrey accompanied her by watching boring news on TV.
‘You think I’ve come this far to listen to this stupid news? How many times will they telecast the same news over and over again? You listen to me…’ Akanksha switched off the TV.
‘I love you…’ Akanksha said, with seriousness in her eyes.
‘Hey, I love you too.’
‘No, Shrey. I mean it, I love you. Even if something happens to me tomorrow…’ Shrey placed a finger on her chattering lips.
‘Shut up. If we’ll go, we’ll go together, now no arguments.’ He switched on the TV again.
‘Oh, you’re so adamant.’
‘Yes, so? I don’t want any arguments on the stupidest topic on this planet.’ Shrey ended the conversation.
The next afternoon, they went to see the Taj Mahal.
‘Beautiful…’ Akanksha was gaping at it. The view was so beautiful that she could look at it for hours, without blinking her eyes!
‘But not more than…’ Shrey coughed.
‘Me?’ Akanksha guessed.
‘No, me!’ Shrey confirmed.
‘Huh, you’re mentally sick I guess.’ Akanksha flipped her grey hair.
‘And you’re world’s most beautiful woman…’ Shrey hugged her from behind.
They spent their evening around Taj Mahal. Shrey took Akanksha to a nearby tea stall. They had the most simple snack and tea and kept looking at each other with each sip. Akanksha knew it could be her last trip, for her health wasn’t supporting her wishes.
‘You know why have I brought you here? From all the places in the world, why Taj Mahal?’
‘I can guess, maybe because you want me to know that you love me?’
‘That’s one thing, sweetheart. I brought you here, because of this…’ Shrey took out a ring from his pocket. It was a simple silver ring, not gold or diamond this time. Akanksha looked at it, equally mesmerized as she was looking at the most expensive ring of the world.
‘What are you looking at? Give me your hand…’ Shrey took her hand and slipped the ring in the third finger of her right hand, for her left hand already had their wedding ring.
‘Why have you got a ring when I’m already wearing one from last 30 years?’
‘I wanted to see your expression. If you’ll be as happy on seeing this cheap silver ring as you were on seeing that million dollar wedding ring…’
‘And? What do you think my expression was today?’ Akanksha was anticipated.
‘Much better than the last time! Haha, I’m a fool who wasted so much over that diamond ring. I could have managed with a silver ring 30 years ago.’ Shrey laughed.
‘Miser bitch!’ Akanksha slapped his arm.
‘Okay, now let’s be serious sweetheart. Tell me, one thing that you love the most about me, and one thing that you hate?’ Shrey folded his arms.
‘Alright, the thing I love the most about you, is your sense of humour which was so good that I didn’t feel like I spent such a long time with you! You know, when I was about to get married, my friends would scare me on the name of Arranged Marriage and tell me that husbands are so dominating, you’ll lose your freedom, you’ll become his puppet, but being with you was like being with a best friend. I didn’t marry that night Shrey, I made a boyfriend with my parents’ permission!’ Akanksha chuckled, ‘And the one thing that I hate the most about you, is that we won’t be together for long. I don’t wanna lose you, Shrey…’ she had watery eyes.
Shrey knew Akanksha was sick and unhealthy and doctors could recommend her complete bed-rest anytime now. That’s why he made this trip. Shrey changed the topic immediately.
‘Won’t you ask me what I love or hate the most about you?’
‘Yeah, why not?’ Akanksha smiled like a child.
‘I love you, your smile. The way you shook hands with me on my 27th birthday, you remember how scared and nervous you were? I knew that this woman is going to mess a lot with my mind now, that’s why I was keeping a distance from you, but destiny struck all chords right, and here we are! Sipping tea in front of Taj Mahal, after thirty years of that first meeting!’ Shrey looked up in the sky. A lot had changed over time. He looked back at Akanksha, and thought nothing had changed for him.
‘I had so many girlfriends, I was a womanizer, and you know, I thought I’d never be able to settle with one lady for an entire lifetime. But look, you changed me so much. I thought I’d never have kids, raising children was so damn boring thing, but you made it all the more interesting for me. You remember how you sent me for a nappy-shopping? Or how we painted the boys’ room? Oh my God; old times!’ Shrey laughed. He recalled how he made so many blunders back then.
‘Don’t make me recall that crap, Shrey!’ Akanksha made a face and Shrey laughed louder.
They were reliving their past, with a thought that they’d live forever, but they both knew, time wasn’t so generous. It could snatch one of them away any moment, and if they could do something, it was simply – living to the fullest, right now.
‘Ask me something, sweetheart!’ Shrey said with utmost confidence.
‘Ask you what?’
‘Anything! Anything you want me to buy for you, anything you want me to do for you…just anything.’
‘Wow! What has happened to you?’
‘Nothing, I’m just in a mood to become an angel for you today.’ He winked.
‘Sweetheart, you’ve been an angel for me since last thirty years now, what else can I ask for? Every girl wishes that her husband should respect and love her after marriage, and you always did more than I demanded. Every girl enters in a new home after wedding, with some expectations and dreams. I also had some dreams back then, and you fulfilled each of them with such devotion. I don’t think I was married for such long time, I think I was on a vacation where I had my babies, raised them up and now I’m here, resting in peace…’ Akanksha kept looking into Shrey’s eyes. Her eyes were wrinkled, his were hidden behind the glass frames. Time had changed them both a lot.
‘But, Shrey…I don’t want to go away. I want to live with you more…live another lifetime with you, sweetheart…’ Akanksha hugged him and shed a few tears. She knew that reality was something else and that she had to leave him someday.
‘Shh…how many times have I told you not to think about useless crap and burn your mind?’ Shrey was angry.
‘C’mon, let’s go.’ Shrey took her to their taxi and they went back to hotel.
Their trip ended and they entered home after three days. Their sons were happy to see them and so were their daughters-in-law. Akanksha was feeling low since a few hours.
‘Aakshi, daughter, get some warm water for Akanksha.’ Shrey asked Akshan’s wife, and took Akanskha to their room.
‘Lie down sweetheart and relax, the doctor is on his way.’ Shrey started pressing her legs.
‘Shrey, what are you doing? Please don’t do this, Shrey…’
‘Shh, you lie down!’ Shrey stared at her with his angry eyes.
‘You think only a wife has the right to serve her husband in sickness but if the wife is sick, can’t a husband leave his fucking job to take care of her?’ Meanwhile Aakshi entered with a glass of warm water and a doctor followed her in the room. Shrey made Akanksha drink some water and take her pills, and the doctor started examining her.
‘Mrs Chauhan, you’re not taking a care of yourself lately.’ The doctor said, ‘You know you’re having so many problems, you’ve had a surgery last year and still you’re not taking your medicines?’
‘What?’ Shrey interrupted.
‘Look at her condition, Mr Chauhan. You think she took any pill in the last few days?’
‘Doctor, it was my 30th wedding anniversary, then how could I disappoint my husband? Those pills make me sick and drag me to sleep. I’m sorry I lied to you, Shrey. I never took any dose in Agra. I just spat them out in the dustbin. I wanted to enjoy my vacation this time, who knows it could be my last time…’
‘That’s it!’ Shrey got up, ‘I’m sick of her talking like that, doctor. And I’m not forgiving you for what you’ve done this time, Akanksha.’ Shrey followed the doctor who had exited the room with some instructions written on a thin piece of paper.
‘Get these new medicines for Akanksha, and take care of her. You know her body is almost hollow now. She’s taking so many steroids and she’s not going to live for long like that Mr Chauhan. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. Keep her happy and relaxed, as much as you can.’ The doctor handed him over the slip and walked away.
Shrey rubbed his forehead, and wiped his tears. He entered inside, and sat beside Akanksha.
‘C’mon, let’s play some cards.’ He opened the drawer, took out a pack of cards, shuffled them and distributed them evenly. Akanksha smiled at him. She knew her husband really well, and she knew her end was coming, that’s why Shrey was making each second of her life memorable. For the next few hours they were busy playing cards.
‘Haha! I won again…’ Akanksha threw the cards on the bed and laughed. It was the third time that she won and defeated Shrey, who was otherwise a master in poker.
‘Ah, I think I need to revise my tricks. You’re becoming smarter, wife!’ he kissed her cheek.
‘And you’re becoming dumber with time…’ Akanksha was happy for it was the first time in her life that she won from Shrey.
The day was spent in playing cards, with Akanksha winning over and over again. She knew Shrey was doing this for her happiness, and she didn’t mind winning for her husband’s content. She knew she could lose and make Shrey win, but then, it was her time to go and she wanted her husband to live with a notion that he always made his wife happy and was the best husband of the planet. On the other hand, Shrey knew he was losing deliberately, but he kept on losing again and again, to see that winning smile of Akanksha. He knew he had limited days left with her, and he wanted to live them all to the fullest…
Shrey and Akanksha, had an arranged marriage, but their love was complete and content. They didn’t calculate before coming into a relation, because they wanted the other person more than anything else. Theirs was not a perfect story, they fought, they argued, but they made it all perfect. Both of them had to sacrifice a lot of things, and both of them made a lot of compromises too, to be with each other, which was all worth it in the end. Both of them had a perfect life, and a perfect love.
We all have a Shrey and an Akanksha in our lives, but sometimes we’re too busy playing with the Nitin’s of our lives that we ignore the real people. When the wrong people hurt us, then we get to know the value of the right ones and the ones who truly loved us. Life is too short to live in regrets and grudges. Forgive, forget and move on, you never know how much time you really have with the people you love. Make each moment valuable, just like Shrey did in the end-time of Akanksha.