It was almost as if Arnav Varun’s “engagement” was the only topic that could keep the part of IE-V that she belonged to, bound in the wake of Aarohan. Or maybe it was the only conversation that caught her ear even as her brain ignored everything else. For weeks, even months following Aarohan, not a day went by without someone referring to the fact that IE-V’s beloved AV-Sir was hitched and so, so in love. The details of his “love” story were also freely available for interpretation, imagination and gluttonous consumption if only Khushi paid any detailed attention to it. Nevertheless, with Arjun Agarwal still strongly rooted beside her as her best and sometimes only friend, it was impossible to gloss over the details.
They were childhood sweethearts – she a year younger than him and studying medicine in Patna – their hometown. Their parents were family friends. They belonged to different religions but never really expected any trouble given how close their families were and how their fathers’ friendship went right back to their own university days. However, when the news of their involvement broke – accidentally as it had been, things changed as dramatically as they only did in Bollywood created fiction, or so Khushi had always assumed. Friends turned foes as the infamous “mazhab ki deewar” that seems to exist rather exclusively in the Indian sub-continent reared its ugly head, tearing through the years of shared Diwalis and Eid celebrations. The couple held their own and “fought” for their “love” while maintaining their dignity and never crossing that line that no one really cared to define. At long last, the impasse had ended as abruptly as it had come into existence, from his parents’ first. Her parents had come around shortly thereafter. The coast was all clear and the news of the impending shaadi-nikaah was just a matter of time. Girls across IE-V branches and years, were heartbroken, Arjun swore. And boys – inspired by the college hero’s dedication and commitment, many attempting to pursue their own love stories on campus – to varying degrees of success. Some, rather petty folks, Arjun had mentioned in a wry, unimpressed voice, did raise questions about the judiciousness of getting married straight out of engineering college. In Arjun’s, and he swore many others’ opinion, no time was early or late, as long as true soulmates had been found. Plus, there was always the rationale of young, modern lovers, looking at marriage only as seal of companionship and not really a full-stop to personal and professional growth.
None of this, Khushi had expressed any explicit interest in. And when Arjun had finished narrating the saga with much gusto having peppered it with color commentary only to end with an offer to reveal AV-Sir’s fiancée’s name almost as it it was the secret to life itself, Khushi had put her book down rather forcefully and stared at her friend in the eye. “I really wonder if it is AV-Sir’s story that has found its happily-ever-after – or yours?”
To this Arjun had only chuckled and responded rather mysteriously about her being the one person who would definitely know when he found his happy ending.
She had been in no mood to analyze what that meant. And so the comment had been ignored unceremoniously and the topic of Arnav Varun and his love-story had been dropped for a good two weeks thereafter.
In those two weeks, Mid Semester results were announced and for the first time in years, Khushi found herself not at the top of the class. While her grades and relative position in the class had not been as drastically depressing as her worst nightmares usually led her believe, it was enough to rattle her.
How any of this fitted with what had or had not happened that evening during and after Aarohan, Khushi couldn’t answer. So she blamed herself for having read too much into every action that in hindsight could be argued as polite, friendly and nothing more. After all, on his part, Arnav Varun never really tried to contact Khushi ever again. She didn’t stop seeing him in the months that followed but she rarely met his eye when their paths did cross. In none of these chance meetings, were they ever alone, just the two of them – not even for a fleeting moment. And it was more by design – hers she liked to think – than it was attributable to chance. There were no solitary trips to the library or the secluded University Ghat. She kept her head down and Arjun by her side for as long as she could remember that year.
The fact that Khushi’s Semester end results had been better than Mid Sem and yet less than satisfactory, helped immensely. This time Khushi’s performance had been better than anyone from First Year Mechanical Engineering had expected, she knew she was capable of more. Her parents did not have to express their disappointment with her marginal improvement in relative ranking. Her own resolve to make her way right up to the top was enough. She drowned herself in her books in way that disappointed Tripti and yet even Krishna Tripti Gupta had seemed to know better than to rouse a wounded lioness.
By the time AV-Sir’s spectacular business school results had surfaced well into the second semester later in the year, Kaveri Khushi Gupta had found her groove again. Now she was not just that first year mechanical girl, she was the first year mechanical topper girl. And that was the only cure Khushi had access to for what some might refer to rather dramatically, as a broken heart.
The last time Khushi saw AV-Sir was a day before the farewell ceremony that had been organized by the first years for the Class of 2005. It was touted to be a spectacular event, somber and yet beautifully befitting for those who were leaving the nest for the big, bad world and would, years later be names that bring glory and grandeur to their Alma Mater. She had tried to smile at him and silently wish him all the luck in the world. Unfortunately for her, it was that day that the tears she hadn’t realized she had been holding at bay, had finally made their presence felt.
It was good for her sanity then that she was required to travel out of Banaras for a family wedding that very evening; to return long after the presence of Arnav Varun on IE-V grounds was a thing of history.
The mixtape with lesser known but melodious Hindi songs from the 90s, most of which she already knew and loved, that he had once gifted her, had echoed in her room for the first time the day she had returned to an empty campus. And found its place in her heart just like its creator once had.
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Chhupaana Bhi Nahi Aata
Singers: Vinod Rathod
Music: Anu Malik
Lyrics: Rani Malik
Mohabbat kaise karte hain,
Koi toh humko samjhaaye
Kahin aisa na ho ke, pyaar bin umr kat jaaye
Tumse milne ka koi, bahana bhi nahi aata
Note: This chapter (intentionally short) brings us to the End of Part I: Once A Mountain Stream. But before we move to Part II: River of Joy, I will post another short Interlude – Arnav Varun’s thoughts. Of course, I don’t promise that it will be what everyone is looking for but I am adding it purely as a response to all the requests. I hope it will be something worthwhile.
Next Update: Monday, Apr 18, 2016