This is my first short story. I hope you like it!
I am not going to lie and say I knew she was the one when I first saw her. There were no ringing bells and angels did not circle her as music played softly in the background. In fact, I don’t even remember when I first saw her – it must have been sometime during orientation. Though she is the most beautiful girl in the world, you would not have noticed her in a crowd. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
I’m Aditya, and this is my love story. This took place back when I used to study computer science at the College of Engineering Guindy (CEG for short). Once I got into the computer science stream, I very quickly realized it was not for me. I mean, how do these people sit in front of a computer screen all day?
In those days, everyone had their own thing apart from CS. Some took to quizzing, visiting all the girl’s colleges in the city under that cover. Others designed posters for the college fests and symposiums. Some could talk a leopard into changing its spots, and others could solve math problems in their heads. There were also those who deemed programming during labs was not enough, and wanted to do more of it for the so-called programming contests. Ugh only.
My own thing was writing. I could write, and write, and write, and never get tired of it. Thoughts flowed freely from my mind to my pen, and I delighted in the forms that words could take. I used to read voraciously, with everything from Aristotle to Agatha Christie in my list. However, as you could imagine, neither reading or writing made for a very glamourous hobby.
So what do you do for fun?
I read a lot uncle. And sometimes I write down stuff.
Not impressive, no? But I never really cared, and I chugged along, attending the boring classes, and just doing enough to pass in every course. It was a very relaxing experience, and I often thought my life was like a cloud in a blue sky – just peacefully floating along, enjoying myself.
Well, my peaceful life came to an end during the second semester, when the local newspaper Chennai Express came to campus looking for some interns. It was a fairly good newspaper, and I was excited at all things journalism. They had written rounds asking us for articles on hypothetical events. As there weren’t too many people in college who could write a decent essay, I sailed through the rounds and was finally waiting for my interview.
This interview took place in the CUIC, a small place on the campus where all placement related activities took place. It was a one storied building, and no one who did not know what it was would think this was the place where every student’s future would be decided. The place exuded no majesty, and a chance visitor to the campus could be forgiven for dismissing it as a place where old records are stored. And yet it is at this small building that my love story begins.
Most students waited for their interviews outside the centre, sitting on the pavement opposite to the building. It was while I was waiting here for my interview in the evening, with the darkness starting to descend, wrapped up in excitement and nervousness, that I first noticed the other person shortlisted for interviews – Nandhini.
Nandhini was in my class at college. She was a quiet girl in class, rarely opening her mouth during the time that I knew her. She was a dusky, slim girl, with long luxurious hair almost until her waist. I had never really noticed her before, and I eyed her with suspicion, imagining that she was my only competitor to the internship. We both sat there in silence until we were both called for interviews simultaneously to different rooms.
My interviewer was a junior editor at the newspaper. We went through a mock routine where I was supposed to be interviewing him for the newspaper. He was pleased with the way I shot my questions at him, and announced that he would be glad to offer me an internship. My heart beat in my mouth, and I took a while to believe that it was actually over!
He went out for a while, and then came back with the other interviewer from the newspaper. Following them was Nandhini. I was told that we had both been selected for the job, and that we were to do the College Beat for the newspaper – cover reactions of college students to fashion, cinema, politics and so on. Nandhini and I nodded at each other uneasily while being briefed upon our duties as interns.
And so it was that our beautiful friendship began. Though we started out very suspicious of each other, we had a common love for reading and writing and quickly became friends. Till date, Nandhini is the only girl I know who actually reads more than I do. Over mini-idlis and dosas at the CEG canteen, we would discuss everything from Ayn Rand to the latest Harry Potter book, and on every topic she would have something insightful to say. She had an opinion on anything and everything, and could argue your rear end off if you let her. It was very easy to talk to Nandhini – she was not one of those “cho chweet! I love it <3 xoxo” girls. There was very little drama involved with her, and being with her was like being with a guy. Things were simple.
We travelled to a lot of colleges all around Chennai, interviewing college students about current hot topics and trends. Nandhini had this knack of knowing when a person was talking honestly, even if she had just met them. In this way, she would throw away most of our hard-won interviews – He was just talking rubbish. There’s no sense in putting that in a newspaper! Though I would gaze wistfully at the sheets of interviews we discarded, it raised the quality of our work considerably, and our mentors at Chennai Express were very happy with our work.
Even though the internship ended, we both stayed on as sort of part timers, covering the odd event here and there, and of course the gala events like Techofes and Kurukshetra in CEG. I have lost track of the number of hours I spent in her company at the gallery in CEG, overlooking the vast playgrounds. We should probably have carved our names upon the stone steps, so long have we sat there discussing every subject under the sun, nipping back into the nearby canteen every time we felt hungry.
The first time I actually looked upon Nandhini as a girl was at Techofes, our cultural festival. She had come in a bright yellow saree to college, with her hair swept back and tied, but flowing freely from the back of her head. I’m pretty sure that when I saw her, my jaw dropped, and I just kept starting at her for a little while. Oh my god! I could keep looking at her forever.
The very next day she was back to her normal look, and I dismissed the vision of perfect beauty from my mind. And while our relationship was as before, from time to time, that image of her standing there near the Chemistry lab, with the leaves under her feet and the wind in her hair, looking divine, would come to mind and have me wondering if that was really the same Nandhini who was munching on a samosa and chattering on about the recently released Surya film.
I don’t know when I fell in love with her. I had always expected that love would be this huge realization that would hit you as something extraordinary happened in your relationship. But my love was entirely different – it was very very gradual, like a friend who creeps up on you slowly and then shouts in your ear. I fell in love with so many silly little things. I loved the way she used my name a million times in our conversations. Adi, did you send that email to the editor? Adi, get me some more chutney. Adi, Adi… I loved the way a thousand expressions would flit across her face in the space of a second. I loved the way she kept her face, with a hint of a smile, when she was preparing to pull something on me. I loved the way she fought with me tooth and nail when the subject was something she was passionate about. I loved her quirky smile when she was embarrassed, and I loved her expression when was writing and had thought of a clever turn of phrase.
With each passing day, I was more and more sure that I loved her. I was extremely happy and content, and felt like I needed nothing more in life. This was it. Bliss. Paradise. But there was a small problem: I was afraid to tell her. There really is no other word for it – I am not cowardly by disposition, but my stomach churned at the thought of getting in front of Nandhini and declaring my love for her. The usual questions haunted me: What if I told her and she rejected me and I ended up losing my closest friend?
I turned to my friend Amudhan for advice. Amudhan was my exact opposite in character. While I was rather broody, introspective, and sensitive, he was an extrovert who felt that any time spent thinking was time wasted. He also happened to be one of the few people capable of tolerating me.
His advice was brief and simple: Machi, nee applicationa potru, result kaduvul kaila. Dude, tell her how you feel, the rest is in God’s hands. In the complicated state I was in, this seemed like brilliant advice and I mustered up my courage to tell Nandhini the next day. The whole day she chattered away normally, but every second was like being on nails for me. I wanted to do it at the end of the day, before she left for home. It was finally late in the evening, and we were sitting at the small place near the canteen, right before the xerox shop. It had started getting dark, and you could see the moon in the sky. I thought that Nandhini had never looked more lovely than in that moment. Alright Adi, I’ll see you tomorrow. Goodnight da! She got up to go. This was it.
Nandy, wait. I have something to tell you. Unlike in the movies, there really is no nice way to tell a girl you’ve known for three years, your closest friend, that you love her. Every sentence that comes to mind seems awkward and silly. My greatest fear was that I would tell her and that she would laugh in my face, refusing to believe that I was serious.
I.. love.. you. The words tumbled out, and then I was completely and utterly tongue-tied. I write thousands of words for a professional newspaper, and here I was proposing like a school kid. I died with shame inside. What must she think of me?
A whole range of emotions swept across the face that I had learned to read so well. First there was pure shock and surprise. Then a hint of laughter as she thought this was a joke. Looking at my face, she then realized it was serious and her face became serious as well. Then, inexplicably, determination. And sadness. We looked at each other for a long time. Aeons might have passed for all I knew.
Goodbye, Adi. That was all she said. I couldn’t find the words to call her back, to explain, to say how I felt about her. I watched her walk away in the moonlight, in the long stretch of road towards the main gate. The next day Amudhan came up to me looking serious. Dude, be careful. Radhika told me that Nandhini has told her parents that you proposed. Her dad may set goondas on you for all we know. I felt my soul shrink in shame. I had met her dad – a nice, pleasant man with a joke ready at every moment. My impression had been that he had rather liked me. That was before you proposed to his daughter idiot.
From then on, everything changed. Nandhini and I went through this awkward phase where you meet and talk about everything except the one thing that you both want to talk about. I wanted to ask her what she meant by that goodbye. I wanted to ask her if she liked me or not. But I did not want to be the person to bring it up first. I tried asking her friends, but I knew Nandhini was not the kind of girl to discuss this with anyone. I resigned myself to not knowing. Sometimes I wondered if even Nandhini knew.
We became extremely polite to each other. Adi became Aditya. Nandy became Nandhini. And every moment that I spent with her, my mind would contrast with the earlier times when she used to be so carefree around me. I mentally kicked Amuthan for egging me on to spill my feelings. I wished I could go back and prevent myself from uttering those three words.
Both of us were offered full time positions at the Chennai Express. But Nandhini declined. She had an uncle in Singapore who ran a newspaper there, and had offered her a job. We had discussed it before and she had seemed dead set on remaining in Chennai. But now she was going.
Our last goodbye had no tears, no hugs. I saw her off at the Kotturporum gate, after our batch farewell. We walked the entire way from the Vivekanandha auditorium to the gate in silence. There are no words to describe the look in her eyes. There was pain. There was sadness. There was strength. And there were a whole bunch of other emotions that I couldn’t decipher. She waved me goodbye and then she was gone. Gone.
The days that followed were dark and depressing. The pain of losing Nandhini, coupled with the realization that you will never again sit on the railings opposite the ATM, that you will never have cold moar at Aavin near ACTech, hit me like a hammer. For many days I wandered around in a daze, not really knowing what I was doing. Amudhan was concerned. What are you going to do now da? By then, a measure of self-respect had returned. Well, I am not going to grow a beard and go around like Devdas. Amudhan chuckled, I knew you wouldn’t. He gave me that look that is the guy substitute for a warm hug.
Turn my sorrow into treasured gold, goes the song. I channeled all my anger and sorrow into my work, throwing myself completely into Chennai Express. I tried not to think of Nandhini, though she kept popping up every now and then. Occasionally I heard that Nandhini was doing well in Singapore, that she was making a name for herself. After a while, I blocked out all news about her, hoping that blocking the news would block the thoughts about her. Amudhan turned out to be my pillar of support, cheering me up every-time I fell into a low. I don’t know what I would have done without him.
Work was going very well. There is this odd thing about work – Everyone does the same 90% of the work at any given task. It is the last 10% that matters, that puts a finishing touch on your work and makes you stand out. My last 10% was taking me places. In two years, I had risen to being on the editorial team, working with the chief editor himself. My name was becoming known in the journalist circles in Chennai.
And then one day, the storm. I returned home after a long day at the office, and my heart skipped beats as I saw a photo on the dinner table. It was Nandhini. But a little different. Her face seemed more mature now. She had done something to her hair, straightening or some such. It made her look even cuter. Mom was looking at me with a smile on her face. Dei Adi, kalyanam vendam vendam nu sonniyae, ithaan karanama? Avanga appa call panirthaanga. You kept refusing to marry, is this why? Her father had called.
And then the whole story came out. Apparently her parents were starting to search for a match for her. And it seemed her father had rather liked me in college, and had remembered that I had proposed to Nandhini in college. Nandhini had consented when asked about the match. He had reached out to my parents, and that was how her photo came to be on my dinner table.
My mom jokes even now that I had sat there for a full 20 minutes, not giving any reaction to the news. I was so stunned, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Why didn’t this happen two years ago? Was that dismissed as a fling? Did her father think I was not ready then? But whatever the reason, happiness swept everything away, erasing my pain and leaving me with a warm glow. Everything happened really fast after that. There was the formal ponnu-paaakara event and it turned out our families got along well.
And now, I’m at the kalyana mandapam and watching as Nandhini is slowly being escorted to my side. My powers of observation have seemed to have both grown and shrunk – There was no one but Nandhini in the world, but about her, I noticed every detail. I noticed the rich red of her saree. I noticed the little band on her arm. I noticed the little earrings danglingly prettily. Above all, I noticed the endearing mixture of happiness, excitement and shyness on her face. She looked at me across the hall, and I was sure that she was aware of no one but me at that instant. And then I knew I was the luckiest guy on earth.