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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

05 January, 2005

Far From The Ones We Love

All you who sleep tonight,
Far from the ones you love.
No hands to the left or right,
And emptiness above.

Know that you are not alone,
The whole world share your tears.
Some for a day or two,
And some for all their years.

- Vikram Seth

Part I

“It’s not about the name, Nafisa. It’s about being practical.”

“Ah yes of course. How could I forget? The practical, down-to-earth Mr. Nakul Sood. Bull shit Nakul. It’s just about your male ego and your vain family pride. It was alright to marry a Muslim girl, but when it comes to your daughter, having even a non-Hindu name is unthinkable. How utterly hypocritical.”

“There. There you go again. Why do you have to bring the family into every thing? This has got nothing to do with it. Why don’t you realize Nafisa that I want a Hindu name for the baby because 20 years later it can make or break her life?”

“And why don’t you realize Nakul that 20 years later she won’t care a fig for any goddamn name, if she has anything of me in her. Nakul, I didn’t want to have the baby right now. But you forced me. Now, it’s my baby, and I will name her what I want. Bye.”

Nafisa banged the receiver with the force of her emotions. As if Nakul would be able to feel that force. She was determined not to relent this time. She had already given up a lot for this marriage and she refused to lose further ground. It was her baby and she had every right to name it. Nakul could go to hell.

If he forced her too much she would walk out on him. This would prove the straw that broke the camel's back. There was a lot on the camel's back already. It had just been a year into their marriage and all she could remember was intense disagreements, bickering and fighting. She found it hard to understand how one could have so many differences with someone whom you had known closely for two years before marriage. What does marriage change in people?

Aroha's cries broke her musings. She looked at the watch. It was time to feed the baby and put her to sleep. "Wonder what Nakul is doing right now", she thought, by habit, as she picked Aroha from her cradle. She realized that this was the first time in the past 1 year that they had been away from each other for such a long time.

1500 Miles away, at their plush residence in suburban Pune, Nakul Sood, CEO Sood Venture Capitals, sat in his drawing room staring blankly at the 29" TV screen and mindlessly changing channels. He could never understand Nafisa. Why did she have to be so stubborn about such small things?

"Damn that Woman!" he thought and flung the remote on the couch. He got up to fix himself a drink.

Without Nafisa, the house seemed empty. True they kept fighting all the time, but they always patched up. And he liked to pick fights with her and dominate her. She was a woman worth conquering.

He smiled at the thought. But their disagreements over little things had increased over the months and now they didn’t see eye to eye on anything. Nafisa had become increasingly difficult to handle and he had been glad when she had gone to his parents’ place in Jaipur, for the childbirth. That had been 3 months ago. Now he missed her and felt bored and lonely.

As Nafisa gently pushed the baby towards her breast, she felt a warm affection and sense of bonding which she had never felt before. She had not wanted to have the baby initially. But when she held Aroha in her hands the first time, she felt no other emotion except sheer joy and elation. Almost instinctively she named her Aroha - unconditional love.

"Nakul lets not have the baby right now. It’s too early and I don’t want a child to arrive in a home like this", that was her reaction when she first discovered she was pregnant, three months into there marriage.

"Don’t be stupid Nafisa. This child is a proof of the love that we have between us. And it’s perfect for it to arrive right now. I don’t understand how you can even think of such a thing.”

"I can think of it because I can think of the consequences. What kind of an environment do you think you will provide the baby? She will hear the sound of arguments in her cradle. She will go to sleep listening to her mother and father abusing each other. Her first memories will be of broken china and slamming doors. And what about the responsibilities Nakul? I am sure Mr. Sood will still maintain his 14 hour work schedule, party late into Saturday night and golf on Sunday afternoons. I will be the one stuck up at home, giving up job and social life. No way.”

Nakul had been surprisingly calm and collected. That had been an unexpected move on his part. She had wanted him to throw a huge fit, shout at her, maybe even physically handle her, the way he usually did. But his behavior came as an anti-climax. He held her hand, kissed her forehead, and made her sit on the sofa in the verandah. He sat near her on the ground and looked into her eyes. And she lost the battle.

Today when she thought about it, she was glad to have lost that battle, though she would never accept that to Nakul. For him, she had always made a big sacrifice in life. She could not let Nakul win this psychological battle. After all, he hadn’t been through anything in all this. It was she who had to take a break from work, it was she who had to sit at home in the evenings (although even Nakul sat with her), and it was she who had to undergo labor pains.

And after all this, instead of being grateful to her, Nakul was promptly demanding more. Men are such ungrateful hypocrites.

The memory her recent argument with Nakul embittered her sweet thoughts with a suddenness that made her wince. Next week Nakul would be coming to take them back to Pune. She resolved that she would settle things with him first. She knew that if she let the matter dangle till they reached Pune, she would lose the battle once again. And she also wanted to see which way the wind blew. 'I won’t let you grow up in a turbulent environment", she looked at Aroha and thought.
Ignorant of all this, Aroha slept the way that only infants can sleep. Pure and unadulterated, perhaps dreaming of heaven, from where they have just arrived.

"Ok if you are being so stubborn about it Nafisa, then I have just one thing to say. You can call her Aroha if you want to. But for me she will be Manasi. And since she will grow up in my house and you will also live in my house, I will choose what name to call the child by. Is that clear to you?"

Nakul gave her a saucy look and walked out of the house. She could hear the car roar in the compound as it left.

The sound of the leaving car helped her take the decision. She realized that Nakul wouldn’t change a bit. That her child would no longer be hers in Nakul's house. She would lose Aroha forever. She panicked at thought of losing another bit of her ground, and a precious one at that. A sense of urgency rose in her and she knew she had to act quickly. Do something before Nakul returned with the air tickets. She could not go to Pune. Not right now at least. She got up and went to pack her bags. It reminded her of the last time that she had packed her bags in a hurry. A year ago. But things were so different then.

Part II

Nakul and Nafisa refused to accept that they were in love with each other, until the last day of graduation. During their college days they were always together, both on and off the campus. But they always told each other and everybody else that they were best friends.

It was on the farewell night of the class of 2002 when they realized that something was just not right. Nakul was going to Pune, to manage his father's new VC funding business. Nafisa had got a placement in Hyderabad itself. They realized that there partnership was coming to an end. They would have to move there separate ways in life, and possibly never meet again. Things would no longer be the same for either of them.

The evening was coming to an end. People were strolling around in groups, taking contact details, congratulating each other for the placements, reminiscing about the day when they had just landed in college and nodding there heads on how fast time had gone by. On the dais someone was singing a song. "Chalte chalte, mere yeh geet yaad rakhna, kabhi alwida naa kahna,..."

Nakul and Nafisa were sitting in one corner of the lawn. As the lyrics floated to them from the dais, Nafisa got choked with a strange sense of loss and sadness. She had been expecting Nakul to say something about there parting since evening. But Nakul had been avoiding eye contact and kept cracking one or another silly joke. He didn’t really seem affected.

"I don’t think he feels for me the same way as I do. So why should I bother. It’s just a matter of few days and then it will be over. This stupid infatuation", thought Nafisa.

"I wish she would say something. I can see it in her eyes, but why doesn’t she speak. Why should I have to take the initiative. Isn’t it important for her to swallow the stupid ego of hers. I am not even going to show that I care." and Nakul realized what a superhuman effort this resolve had taken since evening. Suddenly he felt drained.

“Beech raah mein dilbar, bichad jaaye kahi hum agar, aur sooni si lage tumhey, jeevan ki ye dagar...” the singer continued, in a warm baritone. His choice of song had drawn people closer to the dais, and everyone realized the import of the lyrics. Eyes were moist, hearts were heavy and people tapped feet to accompany the singer.

"I will go get a drink", said Nakul. He needed a break from her. His mask was breaking away and he could not allow that to happen.

Suddenly Nafisa could take it no longer. The party, the song, Nakul's non-chalant, devil may care, I don’t give a damn attitude, the plastic smile that she had been wearing since evening, it all made her feel exhausted. She felt she would break down any moment. She looked around. No one was paying any attention to her. The singer on the stage had just finished singing and people were demanding an encore. Nakul had been caught by one their professors on his way back from the bar and they were talking something.

Looking at him from this distance, his profile outlined against the backdrop of the party, put a lump in her throat. Without saying anything to anyone, she picked her car keys and quietly left. She knew her batch mates would ask for an explanation the next day, but at that moment she didn’t care for anything.

The distance from Secunderabad to Banjara Hills is approximately 15 kilometers. When Nakul returned with the drink and found Nafisa gone, he looked at his watch; it was 11:45 PM. He was at her doorstep at exactly 11:53 PM. Later he would recall that this was the only time he had driven that fast, and try as he would to cover the distance in the same time, he never could repeat that feat. That night was different though. He was a man on a mission and he had realized that his entire life depended on the success of that mission.

Nafisa opened the door on the fifth knock. Her eyes were swollen and she refused to look at him. Nakul entered the room, with the familiarity of a person who has been used to coming and going at all hours on his own. "Why did you leave like that?" His voice was irritated and strained.

"I guess I was tired. I needed to get out of there." Nafisa's voice came almost in whisper.

"Yeah right. You feel tired suddenly. And you leave us all in the middle just like that. Like we are fools to be looking around where Miss Nafisa Siddiqui might be" Nakul was shouting now.

"Nakul, I want you to go now. Please"

"Ok. Right. I am leaving. I just came to tell you one thing. I am madly in love with you. I cant think of living without you. I thought for once you cared enough for me to say that, but I guess I was wrong. Anyways, I love you. And if you love me too, then say it now. Otherwise I will go and never show you my face again."

Nafisa looked up. Teas swelled in her eyes, but she smiled. "You could not have been more rude. You egotistic bastard! Is this the way you ask for a lady's hand?"

They made love that night. It happened naturally, without there even realizing it. And it had the pent up energy, passion and emotions of two years. It was as if there bodies had melted into one and there spirits were connecting at a spiritual level.
Nafisa felt herself melting in Nakuls arms, and she reached a height where the world seemed not to matter and she felt dizzy. She clung to Nakul tightly. Nakul wanted to give Nafisa everything he had. He wanted his soul to melt into Nafisa's and become one. He touched her body passionately yet gently. Finally, exhausted but enriched, they snuggled into each others arms and went off to sleep. An innocent smile on both there faces. Two tired children who had had a long and adventurous journey and whom Mother Nature had finally put to bed.

Hindu-Muslim marriages in India are few and far between. People like to recall them only as examples of communal harmony and hope it happens to the next door girl or boy. We like to cite the marriage of Akbar and Jodhabai, as an example of our greatness and our feeling of brotherhood and oneness. But if our own son or daughter tries to follow that path, we try to break their legs and set an example for the younger siblings at home. Hypocrisy is the psyche of Indians.

Mr. Mushtaq Siddiqui, Honorable Chief Justice, High Court of Raipur, promised to destroy Nakul and his family, if Nafisa married him. He told that in so many words to his daughter. He realized he was powerless to stop her. She was legally of age, independent, lived in urban society, and was correct in what she was saying.


"Abba, Nakul is smart, intelligent, and rich. He has everything you would want in a prospective son-in-law. And you know that too. You like him don’t you? Just because he is a Hindu and I am Muslim, a fact about which neither of us had any choice, I am not going to let you destroy my life." She had said this to him when he had met Nakul the first time. Nafisa had asked her to come down to Hyderabad immediately.

Mr. Siddiqui's worst night mare was coming true. Her daughter was getting married on her own. That in itself was a very bold step in their community. And on top of that a Hindu boy. He would be excommunicated. The Siddiquis were an old family of Raipur, much respected and honored in the community. Now his daughter was going to ruin it all, and he was feeing helpless.

"You are a whore. I curse never to be happy. Breaking you parent’s hearts and walking over family pride like this." That’s all her mother had said. And she had slapped her. Nafisa had never met her mother again. She didn’t wish to either. Her mother would never understand.

They got married at the office of the registrar of marriages in Jaipur, where the Soods originally belonged to. A small wedding party was hosted by Nakul's parents in the evening at there ancestral bungalow outside Jaipur. Nakul's parents had been easy. "They couldn’t care less", Nakul had said. The fact was that Mr. Anil Sood, having spent all his life in London, and having recently arrived in India, was completely disconnected from the issues that Mr. Mushtaq Siddiqui was dealing with.

In the first month of their marriage they realized the difference between a friend and a spouse. As friends they were willing to excuse a lot of things in each other. As spouses, they were doubly impatient, arguing about all little things. But unlike most couples who would rather sulk and crib to their parents or friends, they fought it out between themselves in the open and then patched up.

Then Nafisa discovered that she was pregnant. And it changed the world for her. Things went out of control from there. She became irritable, unhappy, and impatient. And Nakul ran out of patience, not being able to balance the pressures of work life with the constant bickering and quarrelling at home. He began to spend more time out of home. He had managed to talk Nafisa into having the baby, but now he felt wasn’t as sure as before.

Three months before her expected date, Nakul's mother took her to Jaipur. With the motherly instinct she knew what was happening between her son and daughter-in-law and she did not want it to affect the baby. Nafisa's parents had disowned her from the day of her wedding. To them she was dead. So Nafisa Nakul Sood, went to live in the ancestral Sood Niwas, where 4 generations of Soods had been born and grown up in royal luxury and splendor. For Nakul and Nafisa, life was never ever the same.

Part III

It was 10 AM, Monday morning and Nakul was busy preparing for the client meeting, due in 2 hours. He had barely slept for 5 hours in the past two days. They were on the verge of closing a very important deal. It could make or break the company's future and he was going through the details one last time. He simply couldn’t afford to make a mistake this time.

When his cell phone rang, he kept staring at it for three minutes. He had almost forgotten that he had that ring tone. It was the Nescafe ring tone and he had assigned it to only one person. That person hadn’t called in the past two years even once. He thought he was hallucinating. Drowsiness made his reaction slow. He missed the first call. Two minutes later the cell rang again. this time he jumped for it.

"Nafisa..." he couldn’t say anything else. His tongue felt like lead. He waited.

"Nakul", Nafisa was in tears, "Aroha is very sick Nakul. She is in the hospital. I am feeling very helpless. I don’t know what to do."

Cold sweat ran from Nakul's temples. He felt that his knees were failing. "Aroha was sick. Sick enough for Nafisa to swallow her ego and call him. What could be so wrong."

"Nakul I need you..." Nafisa cried.

"Yes, Nafisa. I am taking the first flight out of here. Which Hospital? Apollo. Ok, I will be there in 4 hours. I want you to get a hold on yourself. Yes meet me at the reception desk. Yes I am starting now."

Nakul disconnected the cell and dialed his secretary. "Jennifer, cancel all my appointments and get me the next flight to Hyderabad. Get a car ready at both ends. And please ask Rishi to handle the Leroy presentation and meeting. No, I cant talk to him right now. Yes he knows everything, and I will leave my laptop here. No don’t call me on my cell. I am not to be disturbed till I call back. Now hurry."

He didn’t let his mind relax until he was on the flight to Hyderabad. Thank god his name had enough clout to get last minute tickets on any flight to anywhere. He hadn’t been to Hyderabad since his graduation. He knew Nafisa was there. When she had left Jaipur that evening, without telling anyone, she had gone straight to Hyderabad. That was Nafisa. Running away from situations.
This time he hadn’t followed her. Not that he hadn’t wanted to. But his pride had stopped him. He had kept track of her without letting her know. But he had been waiting for her to call this time. Even if it took a whole lifetime, he wanted Nafisa to take the initiative. But he had never thought it would come this way.

Set in the lush, green surroundings of Hyderabad's Jubilee Hills, surrounded by sprawling bungalows of ministers, film stars and businessmen, lies the huge Apollo campus. For a hospital of its name and size, the road that leads to it is a disappointment. Branching off the main road, a small lane winds up into the hills. On both sides are architectural marvels, which some people have the fortune of calling their homes. This lane winds higher and gets narrower and suddenly takes a left turn. You find yourself surrounded by auto rickshaws, snack bars, STD Booths, medical shops. Here the posh ultra rich
neighbourhood of Jubilee hills, have yielded way to the common man's everyday needs when he comes to hospital.

As Nakul walked into the huge, crowded reception hall, his eyes searched for Nafisa. He couldn’t see her anywhere. It was dark inside and his eyes were dazed by the bright sunlight outside. Someone tapped from behind. He turned around and saw her. She hadn’t changed a bit from the last time he had seen her two years ago.

There eyes met and the next instant they embraced each other. "She is going to die Nakul, my baby's going to die. Please save her."

"Nafisa, control yourself. I am here, don’t worry. And tell me what’s wrong."

"Spina bifida, or the leaking of the spinal cord, is a birth condition characterized by an incomplete closure of the spine. It happens to two in every 1000 children. It can be very severe, but luckily in Aroha’s case it is a minor affliction, known as the Spina Bifida occulta. This means that by performing an operation on her spine, we can ensure that Aroha has a normal happy life in the future. The operation involves a incision at the lower back..." Nakul wasn’t paying anymore attention to what the doctor was saying. He felt tired and drained and he just wanted to know one thing, would Aroha be alright? His weary mind tried to find out the answer to this one question, from the tirade of information, charts and X Rays that the doctor bombarded him with.

As the lights of the operation theatre came on, Nakul felt a cold dread in his heart. "It’s a dangerous operation Mr. Sood, and the success rates are very low. But we have got to take a call. That’s her only chance. But don’t worry; we have the best doctors in the world."

He hadn’t seen Aroha at all in the past two years. His pride, his ego had prevented him from calling Nafisa up even though she was always in his thoughts. Oh why had he been so foolish? Why did he have such a big ego? He had wasted two years. "Please god. Please let her live." he prayed silently.

The operation lasted 18 hours. And for 18 hours Nakul and Nafisa sat hugging each other. Hoping against hope. Praying fervently. Counting on each other for strength. Nafisa would fall asleep in fits and suddenly wake up with a start in Nakul's arms. Those 18 hours had brought them closer than they ever had been in the past 2 years.

Finally the doctors came out. "Congratulations Mr. Sood. It’s been an extremely successful operation. Aroha will be a perfectly normal child now. No Mrs. Sood, we are sorry you can’t go near her for another 48 hours. It’s a very tedious operation for the child and her body needs to recover. But don’t worry, she is perfectly alright now."

Nakul suddenly wanted to hug the doctor, or jump with joy, or do something equally crazy. Instead he smiled funnily and thanked the doctors. Nafisa was too overcome with tears to say anything. She just kept crying and nodded when he asked if she was alright.

"Mr. Sood, I think both of you should go get some rest now. It’s been a long watch for you. We will take care of your daughter right now. You will need the strength once she is discharged from the hospital, so please conserve it", the doctor advised.

They drove to Nafisa's place. It was the same old apartment where she used to stay in her college days. They were exhausted beyond the point of sleep. Nafisa offered to get some coffee. Nakul sat in the verandah and switched his cell phone on. He hadn’t thought of his work at all in the past two days. Now he wondered what had happened to the Leroy deal. Had Rishi handled it well?

"Rishi, Nakul here. Yes I am fine. Yes Aroha is fine too. Thanks man. Tell me what happened. Ok. That’s good. Great. And he agreed to all the terms? Oh, that’s not a problem. Ok don’t worry, I will manage it. Just ask Jennifer to make my travel arrangements. And an immediate return too Please. Thanks a lot"

Nafisa came and sat beside him, coffee and sandwiches on tray. "So Mr. Sood. Off again?" She was smiling, and there was no complain in her eyes. That surprised Nakul. He had been dreading the explanations he would have to make.

Nafisa read his thoughts, "Nakul, you have been here exactly when I needed you. And I realized how stupid I have been. I have missed you in these past two years but I didn’t realize how much I missed you until yesterday when I was sitting besides you, with my head on your shoulders. I am sorry Nakul. I let my ego destroy our love. I promise I won’t let that happen again. I will never ever run away like that. Never."

Nakul got up and sat besides her. "Don’t be silly Nafisa. It was my fault. I made big deals of small issues. And I should have hunted you out. I missed you girl. I missed you every second of every day. And I missed so much of Aroha. I cant tell you how much I am looking forward to make that up as a father. Two years wasted. I cant curse myself enough"

"Why didn’t you call Nakul? Just one time. If you had called just one time, I would have come running." Nafisa was in tears again.

"Hey old girl, no more crying. The worst is over now. I am here and whether we fight or whether we make love, we will stick around till kingdom come. Deal."

"Now listen, I have to go sign few documents in Pune and return. I will be back by tomorrow this time and then we will go get our daughter together. Aroha. Honestly, I like the name."

"It means unconditional love." said Nafisa and they both smiled.

"Now you go to bed. I will take a cab and get going. I will call you once I reach Pune." They kissed each other passionately.
Long after Nakul had gone, Nafisa sat in the verandah sitting and thinking. It had been very tough time. After the initial sense of freedom and independence she had begun to miss Nakul terribly. For the past one year, she had waited for his phone call everyday. But her ego wouldn’t let her call him. Until the day she found about Aroha's dreadful illness. And she was glad that she loved Aroha enough that it had helped her overcome her ego and go back to Nakul. And now, finally, everything was alright. They were together again, Aroha was in their lives and it would be just perfect.

A distant sound woke her form her fitful sleep. It was her cell phone. She woke with a start and realized that she had fallen asleep on the sofa in the verandah. It was pitch dark outside. It must be Nakul, she thought. And ran to get the call.

"Hello"

"Hello, can I talk to Mrs. Sood?" the voice was not Nakul's. It was a stranger.

"Speaking."

"Mrs. Sood...this is Nakul's colleague. Rishi. Mrs. Sood there’s something I have to tell you..." he was sounding very hesitant, and it irritated Nafisa. What can it be. Why couldn’t Nakul have called.

"Yes go ahead please...." she said, barely able to mask her irritation.

"Mrs. Sood, Nakul had an accident on his way back from the airport. It was a hit and run with a truck. I am sorry to say this...he was found spot dead by the police...Mrs. Sood, Hello, are you there Mrs. Sood?"

She was no longer on the line. Mrs. Nafisa Sood had fainted.

10 Comments:

Blogger dewdrop said...

so vivid. so tragic. loved it!

06 January, 2005 00:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

unbelievable!

03 May, 2005 06:11  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

beautiful story .. ur not going to believe this .. but i do know a nakul sood .. and he owns a company in pune and the name of the company is ALOHA ... too much coincidence i guess

13 May, 2006 01:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

beautiful story, but very tragic. as a matter of coincidence i do know a nakul sood who also resides in Pune. not sure if he ever got married though...

15 October, 2006 02:27  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nakul is single and very much alive in pune :)

And i dont think he had kids, i know him from back in California. Does this author know him? I am very curious!

Tina

23 November, 2007 21:41  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi,
very beautiful and tragic story. i know some nakul sood in california though, and pune connection is just a coincidence, i hope :)
i am very curious to know if this is the same nakul the author is talking about. i thought he's single...

18 April, 2010 03:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know a Nakul Sood.Coincidence can't be in so many areas. As author has mentioned in its original blog that all write-up are his real life experiences, I think at least 50% of the story is true and rest of it is manipulated to confuse the reader. I am confident he is same nakul. He is alive.

Where is the Author? Time for him to come on the board. Probably he has something to convey to the readers.

02 June, 2010 20:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd really appreciate if someone can confirm his marital status, and/or if he had any kid.
My friend is seeing him on and off, with a firm belief that he's single. I hope she doesn't end up with a broken heart. He owns this company called Aloha.

16 June, 2010 22:35  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the Anonymous poster who commented on June 16:

I don't know any Mr. Sood in California/Pune. But just a piece of advice from my own understanding of this matter~~

Your friend might want to be sure before going out with this guy, if she feels she'd be heartbroken with such a discovery. Most of such relationships don't have a happy ending. So, better to stay away.

======
On a completely different note, this story is so vivid, you almost feel the pain of the characters and they touch you so deeply. Long after the read, it remains with you. Absolutely awesome!

-T

24 June, 2010 01:47  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

looks like a number of readers are familiar with some mr. nakul sood. maybe the coincidence ends beyond the name, occupation and location of the character in the story?

it's certainly possible that the author knows the same mr. sood from pune.
but the rest of the story -- the whole persona and the events around the character might have been completely made up by the author, which obviously kept the readers guessing.

08 July, 2010 05:07  

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