And, in no time, The Gateway of India stood in front of them, majestic and inviting. The dark sea beyond had small specks of bobbing lights sparkling right till the horizon. Mesmerized they watched grasping the beauty of the moment. Avni suddenly asked him about the ferries. Why did they have tyres all around them? Gaurav launched into a long-winded scientific explanation, mid-way through which she gave up on understanding it but enjoyed listening to his soft voice.
Being hungry, they found a place to eat. It was getting late for both of them. And they ought to head back. The train was a little crowded, and they preferred to stand near the door. Gaurav arms were perched on both sides of her not touching her, sort of encircling her body. With the gentle lulling of the train’s motions and people getting in and out, they stood close to each other chatting softly and smiling into each other’s faces. It was intimate; she felt safe and happy!
The topic of going to US came back again. Gaurav’s eyes lit up when he explained how much he wanted to go and experience the work and life there. Avni felt a huge knot in her stomach tightening. She did not know how to explain it – was it the fear of the unknown or the thought of building her career from scratch that was frightening her? She did not know. Was she willing to make that sacrifice for him? After all she hardly knew him. While thoughts raced in her mind, she said nothing. He sensed the turmoil in her. Gently, quietly, he took both her hands in his own and held them firmly. His hands were very warm, somehow a reflection of his heart. Avni felt herself rocked by conflicting heated emotions. Something about his touch was beautiful, comforting and arousing. Yes, she was attracted to him, more than friendship and camaraderie, her body responded to his touch. They stood like that for a while and finally almost reluctantly, he let go of her hands. For that moment, she would have gone anywhere and done anything that he asked for. But, the rational her quickly took control of her mind and tried to compose her. This was not fun and games anymore. Oh, what had she gotten herself into?
Back at the guesthouse, Avni plopped herself on the sofa, pulled her feet up and curling them under her slowly closed her eyes. She was so tired. It had been a long day. Gaurav sat next to her watching her, tired himself. He should be leaving to get back to his hotel. But, he wanted the evening to extend some more.
Opening her eyes, Avni smiled at him and apologized for being so tired. Suddenly taking her right palm in his hand, he said he could read hands. This was a trick boys used very often, and it never failed. She watched him with amusement waiting to hear what he’d cook up. “You have a long life.” Right! “A great fate line.” Have heard that one before! “Two kids!” Really! She continued to watch his handsome face. Looking very serious, he said, “And I definitely see a line there that says that you will be living abroad.” Charming and self-serving! She couldn’t help laugh at that. There was something so earnest about him. The hint of stubble on his face looked so inviting. Should she caress his face and those lips..? Her emotions were running wild. It must be because I am tired, she thought! With great effort, she forced herself to stop.
The guesthouse helper was hovering around in the background. She did not want the evening to end. But it had to and it did. They came to the elevator and said their byes. They reached out and hugged each other holding on for the longest time. Some more of that warmth! She watched the elevator go down till he was out of sight!
Avni had a dreamless sleep that night; Gaurav tossed and turned. He had a train to catch the next day, so did she. How would things pan out now? What was she going to do? Was she in love with him? For God’s sake, she had just met him. That was the first time, she addressed that thought. What the hell was love?
This whole going to the US bit was bothering her a lot. She was confused and stubborn. Did she really want to trust him enough to go to a place so far away from my family? Her mind was sending panic signals. Her heart was telling her something else. She was torn. Meanwhile he wasn’t pushing her, and she felt relieved. And days passed by in a terrible mental conflict.
Finally, she spilled the beans to her sister desperate for some answers. Her sister asked her to weigh her choices. But of course, the final decision was Avni’s alone to make. And no one was helping her make her choice. Could she move on leaving Gaurav behind?
Not having him in her life seemed a bad, very bad option. She had only known him for a month, but was inexplicably drawn to him. She wasn’t willing to let him go. She wasn’t a risk taker, but she believed a lot in her intuition. And her gut feeling was giving her the green signal.
And the next day, Avni who was never ever impulsive called Gaurav and said, “Let’s get married!” Gaurav chuckled loudly at the other end. This girl knows how to do things in style!
Next big hurdle – how would their parents take it? Yes, they belonged to different castes. It did not matter to both of them. As much as Avni knew, it did not matter to her parents too. But this was the first time a situation like this was unfolding. Without further ado, Avni went to her dad and nervously blurted out about this guy she had met over the internet and later face to face, and she wanted to get married to him. It sounded so ridiculous even to her ears. Tensed she looked at her dad. He must have been stumped, but he did not let it show on his face. “Dad,” she prodded? Her father took a few details about Gaurav and said that he would speak to his family not giving his emotions away. Her mother just gaped at her, open-mouthed.
Later that evening while both of them chewed their nails, Avni’s father spoke to Gaurav’s and had a very short chat. He was going to fly off to Hyderabad to meet with them. And the rest of it was surprisingly easier. Avni’s father was happy with her choice. And the family seemed down to earth as well. Gaurav’s family was very warm and welcoming.
They even zeroed in on an engagement date. Was this a dream? It certainly felt like one. A couple of weeks later after their engagement, Gaurav flew off reluctantly to the US to join his new job promising to come back in December for their wedding.
Today Gaurav and Avni have been married for 13 years and live with their two children in India. And Avni loved her stay in the US! Despite numerous joys, tiffs, and ups and downs, this has been a journey worth embarking upon. Yes, he still has really warm hands! Some knights do not come in shining armor; they blow you away with their down-to-earth goodness and simplicity. Some love stories just have very unconventional beginnings…