Alok had his eyes fixed on the traffic signal countdown timer as he waited on his bike at the crossroads.It was around 6pm and the ferocity of the Sun was almost waning off as dusk was slowly setting in the city of Nagpur.His lips were humming the tune of a song he had watched back in the TV room at the hostel before he set out.He looked around and noticed that almost everyone was staring at the signal with their hands clutched onto their steering,ready to pounce the moment the red lights switched over to green.He passed his left hand over his left pocket once again and ensured that his possession was safe.As the green lights flashed,Alok accelerated forward and he was on his way.
Alok was going to meet his best friends,Tara and Abhijith.The three of them were doing their postgraduation at Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology.It has been only over an year since the three of them became friends.They often used to travel together in Tara’s car when they frequently went out for dining.But today,due to some other commitments,Alok had to travel alone but he had assured them that he would honour their rendezvous as promised.
After all,today was going to be different.It was supposed to be a turning point in their friendship.
He was going to propose Tara today.
The simple thought of it made him smile.
Alok took a sharp turn to the left and calculated that he would reach in less than half an hour.The streets started getting lit up by lights and so were the headlights of motorvehicles. He took off his glasses and left it hanging on his t-shirt.
Alok first met Tara outside the campus in Empress City Mall.He was trying to book a ticket for OK Jaanu outside the crowded PVR cinemas when all of a sudden the face of a girl popped in front of him asking if he could grab one for her as well.It was only about a fortnight since he joined VNIT,so he didn’t quite recognise her though he kept thinking he had met her somewhere else.He politely obliged and she thanked him for the gesture.
“Hi! I’m Tara..doing M.Tech at VNIT..and you?” she spoke as she offered her hand for a shake.
“Hey,me too!”Alok was taken by surprise; “I’m Alok,M.Tech in Communiation Systems!”
“No way! Me too in the same branch!”Tara quipped in.
And that was how their friendship started.And he never regretted meeting her.
Abhijith on the other hand had joined VNIT for M.Tech in Computer Science Engineering in the same year.He was in the same hostel as Alok but he was already known to Tara before VNIT days itself.They were schoolmates as he would say but Tara always used to tell that they were never more than mere aquaintances.Alok always wondered how could someone be not friends with a girl like Tara!
It was busier than usual out there despite it being a Friday.Right now he was caught in the heavy traffic but he managed to move inch by inch among all the commotion.
Abhijith was a nice person;always calm and considerate but with those occasional witty quotes which made himself and Tara burst out in laughter.Besides being a nerdy guy(Guess all the computer science guys are!), he had a wonderful taste in movies.Dumb as some of his suggestions might seem,all those movie nights on his suggestions turned out to be quite good. The three of them were a formidable bunch and the whole campus knew how strong their friendship was. And occasionally surfaced the expected question of “Which among you is in love with Tara?!”
Alok and Abhijith would thwart any such quirky questions impulsively.And Tara would often sigh: “If these guys are not interested in me,who ever would be?!”
And they all used to end up laughing at that.
The traffic was slowly clearing and Alok tried to increase the pace.It was taking unusually longer today.His hand impulsively went to feel the pocket of his jeans again as if to reassure himself.
Tara came from a family of doctors settled in Mumbai.Her parents were both paediatricians and naturally they expected her to take up their profession as well.However as she would say,she was least interested in taking up the mantle herself.Also,her elder brother chose to be a doctor anyways.She always felt that her calling was something different.She never wanted to be an engineer even.She actually wanted to be a cinematographer.She was the one you would always see clicking pics one after the another on outings.As Alok would often say to Abhijith,the memories of their friendship were colorful largely due to her.She might be a bit short-tempered in between,but other than that she was always a nice company to hang around with.
Abhijith came from a middle class family in Pune ;his mom had died in a road traffic accident years back.His dad was a businessman and his only sister was also doing her B.Tech in Computer science.
Alok,on the other hand came from a family of teachers.They hailed from Solapur.His parents always left it to him to take a decision on his life.As his mother would say,”Your ambitions are never going to be challenged unless we think its that irrational.But inform us before you embark on anything new!”.And he had always adhered to it; except in this case when he decided to propose Tara and later tell his mom about it.
Alok had just overtaken a Swift near a curve and narrowly avoided another car coming from the opposite lane.His mind was also racing much like his motorbike.Thoughts about Tara always did,he reflected.
Alok-Tara-Abhijith were often referred to as “The Three Musketeers of VNIT”.They were often found together and everyone used to think that if one is spotted,the others would also be nearby.They would often spend their evenings together in the library,or travelling,or consuming food or simply chatting.There never was any paucity of matter to chat on.Alok had a wide friend circle as opposed to Abhijith who was more of an introvert.On the contrary,there was not a single person in the campus who didn’t know Tara.But overall,the group was a standalone from their peers.
Alok could never recollect when exactly did he fall for Tara.Honestly,he always liked her personality and her carefree nature.She was never afraid of voicing her opinions and to stand by them .Well,who would dislike her for that reason? But the transformation of the nature of that likeness happened somewhere unconsciously.He remembered he started having feelings for her only recently and more than once,he felt he saw that feeling reciprocated in her eyes too.But he was not sure.He tried to speak to Abhijith regarding it but he didn’t seem to be much interested.So Alok didn’t bother him again.But he knew he had something for her more than mere friendship.About a week before,he felt it was time to take it forward and arranged for a meeting today at one of their favourite hangout spots in Nagpur-'Meadows'.
Alok kept driving through the frustrating heavy traffic .He was used to the Nagpur traffic and roads by now,but sometimes its so annoying especially when you are on the way to something as important like this.
Alok had come across ‘GIVA’ sometime back,when he searched online for the purpose of gifting his cousin sister a chain.So he thought of ordering a ring from Giva as the plan of proposal churned in his mind.It was the best he could afford right now and he remembered her telling him once how she adored those pretty silver fashion jewellery bracelets.He had selected one ring from the catalogue.He could not help smiling when he picturised him slipping it through her delicate finger.
He was nearing his destination.Hardly a couple of minutes,he knew.It was around 6.30 pm by now.
“I really hope both of them have reached!”Alok said to himself.
It was then that his phone vibrated with the notification of new message.He carefully slowed down and took out his phone from the right pocket as he stopped by a local vendor.It was a message in the trio’s whatsapp group by Tara.
“Idiot! Where are ya?!”
“We are waiting for u to arrive !”
Alok smiled as he replied: “Oye,in a minute..almost there..!”
He carefully scanned the road before moving forward.
“Meadows” at Byramji Town was always a pleasant spot to hang around with.They have been here on umpteen occasions particularly in search of the amazing milkshakes and chilling desserts.He turned round the corner and reached the place.There was not much of a crowd outside the place at this time of the day.He parked his bike at the usual place.
Alok paused for a moment at the doorway,took a deep breath and went inside.
The place was dimly lit today.As he stepped inside,he was greeted by the familiar sight of rows of ceiling lights,walls plastered by images of luscious fruits and neatly arranged tables and coloured cushioned seats.And unmistakenly,at one corner,he spotted his best friends sitting together-their usual place.In fact,they were the only customers at this time within the shop.Tara glanced sideways and saw Alok first,raised her hands ,laughing widely.His heart skipped a beat as he returned the gesture.The familiar staff at the counter also smiled at him as he made his way towards his friends.
Tara was wearing a pink bateau neckline t-shirt and dull blue jeans with her hair tied in an irregular updo.Abhijith was sporting a grey crew neck t-shirt with black jeans with his hair untidy as usual.Alok joined them at the table,landing a punch onto Abhijith’s left shoulder with his right arm as he settled down to his left.Tara was sitting across him.
“Dude,you look handsome today!”Tara chuckled.
“I see you have already started without me,huh?!” Alok replied trying to conceal his happiness at her words.
“What else did you think man...how long should we wait for you?!”Tara was giggling.
“You know na,Aloo..Her highness would go crazy when hungry!”Abhijith was quick to add on as both Alok and Abhijith burst into laughter making Tara stare down at them with pure contempt.
“Anyways,thanks!” Alok mumbled as he finished off the Kiwi juice from the glass.
At this time,the staff approached them,a middle aged man in his forties with the menucards on his hands,obviously to take down their order.
“Hey Surinder Ji,you know we don’t need the menu cards right?Perhaps we know the menu of this place more than anyone else in Nagpur,isn’t it so guys?!” Tara exclaimed.
“Yeah!!unless there is something new at stakes!” Abhijith exclaimed.
Alok was contemplating how and when he should propose and he didn’t pay much attention to the ongoing conversation.
“Indeed there is Ma’m!”Surinder smiled as he handed over the menu cards to the trio.
“Ok then,sure!” Tara opened hers and peered into it.
“Hey,there doesn’t seem to be anything new here.I have scanned through.....”Tara came to an abrupt stop,so abrupt that Alok looked up taking his eyes off his card.
Tara’s face was purple,her big eyes widened and there was an expression of pure bewilderment on her face as she stared open-mouthed at the menucard.For a second,she looked straight at Alok.She then slowly turned her head to her left and gazed at Abhijith.
There was a moment of silence.And then Tara broke it with a shrill.
Alok was perplexed.
“Yes what?!”he asked but Tara didn’t seem to hear.
Alok took the card in front of her and hurriedly peeped into it.It didn’t take him long to find out what he was looking for.There at the bottom right corner of the card were the following words printed on it:
Will you marry me,Tara?!
Alok felt as if he was engulfed in pitch darkness.His head began to spin and he tried in vain to concentrate.His vision was getting blurred and an eerie of sounds kept playing in his head.After a moment,it all seemed to stop and he strained his neck to see Tara hugging Abhijith who was grinning. It was a while after which he spoke to both of them as he stood up:
“I shall give you both a minute..err..washroom!”
Both of them acknowledged it with a smile.
Alok started walking towards the washroom.He suddenly felt the object in his pocket becoming heavier as it was weighing him down.He dragged himself across the room,crossed the counter and opened the door of the restroom and bolted it.As he looked across,he saw his reflection at the mirror.For a moment he simply stood there appreciating his image.And then,he broke down.He couldn’t help it as he clutched both his hands firmly on the semi recessed wash basin.Many a thing came rushing to his mind and he found it difficult to process them all at once.
What happened back there was something he never imagined would have happened.Abhijith and Tara?Was it happening since a long time?Or did Abhi thinkabout it all of a sudden?It can’t be because he had planned everything well.Maybe Abhi liked her a lot more than he did;Of course,they were acquaintances since many years unlike him.Maybe Tara also loved him back.He,Alok,might have been simply oblivious of the fact.He just assumed that there could be nothing else between them.Well,she was obviously happy.And there he was, still hoping if all this was only a dream.
Alok slowly took out the gift wrap from his pocket and opened it.The ring somehow looked more beautiful than it ever was.He raised it in front of his eyes and simply smiled to himself before keeping it back.The purpose of the object has changed.Maybe,he would keep it aside somewhere in his trunk.Or maybe,he can still give it to Tara as a wedding gift from him;Yes,that seemed better.It was anyhow intended for her.When to hand it over to her is the question now.He should wait for another day because it won’t seem good if he gives it to her now when Abhi just proposed her.It might make him feel bad.He as their best friend should not do that.Yes,it can wait...
Alok opened the tap and poured water onto his face.He combed his hair and took a last look at the mirror before he unbolted the door and stepped out into the main lobby.
His phone suddenly buzzed with a new email notification.It was from GIVA;And the subject of the mail read thus: