2. Back Story

5 years ago…

Saarthak was pursuing psychology, then. It was his last year and last semester. He knew where he was going to go after that. His dad had already planned for everything.

London!

He was heading towards college gate, one day, when he saw her at a distance merrily dancing in the middle of the road with a group. She was drenched in sweat but gleaming nevertheless; so much that he neither could move ahead nor could take his eyes off her.

“Saaaarrthhh!” His batchmates were calling him louder now. He took one last glance at her and walked away.

“Who is she?”

The textbooks were there. Lectures were going on. His friends were there and yet he was thinking about her.

“Who was she?”

That chocolate brown complexion, those big sparkling eyes, the lively laughter, that cute nose and most of all, the feeling that she inspired in him. It was different, very different.

He shook his head and tried to get back to his thick books. Exams were approaching and here he was, having a crush on someone he didn’t even know.

Saarthak spotted her for the third time in the same week, near his college. “I say, enough of eye-stalking-a-stranger. Next time I see her, I am going to talk to her. Period.” He decided while the lectures were going on and he couldn’t concentrate on anything else except the Mystery girl.

Saarthak was 21 then, having a well-built, wide forehead, pitch black eyes, full lips and the best feature was his prominent nose. He was an ardent reader, an amazing sportsperson and a rational thinker.

However, Aman was the only person who knew him as someone totally different from what he was known to others. With Aman, Saarthak was nothing but a crack-head, who would do anything just as crazy as it can get and even when it can’t.

Aman Arora, a 21 year old, who had dimpled cheeks, sharp nose, brown eyes, perfectly shaped lips, arched thick eyebrows, a prominent forehead and an admirable athletic physique. However as a person, Aman was everything Saarthak wasn’t. He was introvert, a gym freak, and when people talked about the idea of creativity, Aman just knew one word and that was painting!

But, despite being opposites, Aman was Saarthak’s best friend. He wasn’t just a childhood friend, but a soul-mate; brother from another mother, to be aptly put. After all, they were together since kindergarten.

Whilst Saarthak was pursuing his Bachelor’s in psychology, Aman was pursuing his in Architecture and Interior Designing.

“Kya scene hai? Kidhar khoyaa hai? Khaanaa thuns le, varna baad me chillaaegaa ki main akele chatt kar gayaa sabkuchh. Saale dost hun tera, biwi nahi hun!” Aman said while eating, his mouth full of delicious curry and morsel of bread.

“You eat. I’ll go and have a fag.” Saarthak said and left in a blink of an eye even before Aman could react or reply.

It was 3 and he was standing at the exact place where he had spotted her thrice. He stood there repeating the mental-note in his head, waiting for her to show up again.

“But what am I going to say to her? How will I approach her?”

An hour went by but nobody arrived. It was about to 5 when people started exiting from the college gate and Saarthak was still there waiting for her, hoping that the mystery girl might show up again. Saarthak had just turned his view to the other side to see if she’s coming from that direction but found Aman standing in front of him instead, his eyebrows narrow, a confused look on his face.

“What’s happening with you, dude?” Aman asked Saarthak in his usual tone.

“Nothing. Let’s go home.” Saarthak replied without making an eye-contact, wryly.

Aman thought that Saarthak must be a little stressed out about his last semester and anxious about upcoming trip to London for further studies, hence he didn’t probe much so as to know why he is avoiding interaction and lying.

Years of friendship and understanding does that. You understand on your own what the other person needs without having them explain to you.

They went back home. That very evening, Aman had to leave town for his last semester project. He was busy, hence he couldn’t catch up with Saarthak after returning from college, neither did Saarthak ping him or drop by at his place.

Next day, Saarthak had a free lecture. Rather than going and grabbing something to eat at canteen he went out of college. He was lighting his cigarette, when he heard an unfamiliar voice.

“Bhaiya, do Marlboro advance dena. Thoda jaldi.” The girl said to the shopkeeper.

He looked at her while she was busy in fiddling money from her bag. Mystery girl! Because he was surprised to see her yet again, he didn’t realise that he was staring at a stranger and that too a girl.

The girl had noticed by now that a guy was gawking at her for no particular reason and waved her hands “Excuse me?”

“Uh-oh! You. Hi!” Saarthak couldn’t help stuttering.

The girl made a weird face, lit the cigarette and turned towards the direction of bus-stop totally avoiding the guy.

“Hey stop, listen!” Saarthak called out the girl from behind, stopping her from moving ahead. He had to stop her.

She stopped and turned towards the weirdo.

“Yes?” The girl asked him, without a hint of any expression on her face. But the tone was gentle.

“Who are you? I mean, I have seen you before as well but you’re not in this college, right? I mean, I know you are not. Do you live nearby or something? I have seen you dancing there. A few times. Who are you?” Saarthak put so many questions to a person he didn’t know, without even thinking as to what she’ll think or react like, in one breath. Restlessly. 

The girl stared at him for a minute and then burst out laughing. Saarthak now realised what he just did, looked around, back to his feet, and ground, simultaneously. Though he was thanking his stars that he didn’t get slapped or anything similarly harsh but he was still feeling uneasy.

“Why she’s laughing? Was it funny? Am I looking stupid?”

She crushed her cigarette beneath her shoes and extended her hand towards him.

“Hi, I am Vaahika! You?”  The girl introduced herself.

Saarthak shook hands with her and smiled. “Sweet girl, unusual name.” He thought, repeating the mystery girl’s name in his head. Vaahika.

“Saarthak Sehgal.” He introduced himself too.

“There’s a studio nearby. I am a theatre artist. We practice there, mostly. And because this is the nearest bus stop to that particular place, you might have seen me with a group sometimes. And, about dancing in middle of the road? Well, I kinda enjoy it. Anything else I can help you with Mr Sehgal?” She answered all of the questions Saarthak had put, sweetly, and pulled his legs, simultaneously.

Saarthak couldn’t help but smile at her. She was absolutely sweet but her voice was even more.

“You study here?” She asked him pointing at the college.

Saarthak nodded. “Yeah! Pursuing psychology honours!”

Vaahika was about to say something when her phone rang. “Yeah, yeah! On my way already.” She said and disconnected the call.

She told Saarthak that she had to leave and she left the next minute. Watching her walk away, felt weird. He slowly walked back to college. He came back to his class but obviously couldn’t get her out of his head the whole time.

And why would not he? She was beautiful, effortlessly beautiful.

But he was puzzled at how she reacted. “How can someone be so cool?” He thought. He never had heard a name like that of hers. A thought clicked on his mind that probably she lied. And the theatre artist thing might also be a lie.

And then, he stopped at it. Theatre, studio, rehearsals. He can find out about it. That night, Saarthak couldn’t manage to doze off. There were so many things running on, in his mind. And most of all, even though he tried to push all of it away, her face and that voice would not leave him. That laughter was captivating.

“Hey.” Saarthak waved at Malhaar.

Malhaar waved back, walking towards him. Malhaar lived nearby college. Saarthak was aware that he must be knowing about the nearby locations better than anyone else. So, he approached him, as soon as he saw him.

From Malhaar he learnt that Vaahika didn’t lie about the studio, the previous day. There was a studio nearby. It was quite close to his college as well. He thought to go and visit the same. He wanted to see her, he knew.

He was halfway through his studies, assignments and case studies already. So skipping lectures and library time didn’t really trouble him. The very next day, he left from home for college but didn’t go to college.
He was on his feet, heading towards the studio, feeling ticklish inside. Probably, the idea of seeing her again was the reason or maybe he was just happy that she was so close to him to be reached out. It took him barely 8 minutes’ walk to reach the studio. Vibe Studio!


The studio was quite big and well structured. Though there were security guards at the entrance who let him in, post frisking, but they didn’t stop him or ask him about anything.

Strange! Saarthak thought.

Saarthak was trying to find where she could be practicing when he heard a lot of voices and singing happening. He moved in that direction, and ended up at a door. He put his hands to check if it was locked from inside, which luckily wasn’t.
 He got in. And there it was. A theatre which had a brilliantly decorated stage and there was a group of youngsters rehearsing on it. The acts were glorious. As nobody noticed him getting in, he took a seat and watched the practice going on. The play was about art being a medium through which a person finds peace. The playback voice was immensely amazing, deep and vibrant. 
Couple of hours later, when the rehearsing peeps decided to go and take a break, He was noticed by them. A guy came forward and approached Saarthak introducing himself to him, “Hey, hi! Vihaan Vats, here. May we know you?”

Saarthak introduced himself and told that he studies in the college nearby and heard about the studio. Being a psychology student, he thought to visit and explore more. Vihaan bought everything he said and smiled warmly. He even introduced him to the whole group.

“You people have a girl named Vaahika in your group, right?” Saarthak asked Vihaan when he was done meeting, shaking hands with everyone, smiling simultaneously.

“Oh! You know her? She did a voice-over for us; she’s not in our group. She left just yesterday. She doesn’t live here now, came here for the voice-over help, as we contacted her, few months ago.” Vihaan told Saarthak which almost shook him a little, pushing out all the happy thoughts he had a while ago.

“She’s not in Delhi? Where had she gone? Hell! Now what?” Saarthak thought while feeling as if somebody has emptied him and put on fire.

“Hey? What happened?” Vihaan asked him, shaking him out of his thoughts, tenderly.

“Ah! Nothing! She has an amazing voice.” Saarthak replied, hiding his uneasiness.

“Indeed! Come, eat with us!” Vihaan asked him to join for lunch, to which he politely refused and came out.

On his way back, he thought that probably that’s why she told him about the studio because she was leaving.

Damn! Why did not I ask her more? 

And then, he remembered that had she stayed for a while he obviously had. “Who called her?”

How would he find her? Why she is controlling his mind so much? Why he chose to skip college and go to her studio? There were so many questions in his mind rising, to which only she was the answer.

Darn! Chuck it! He told himself.

He went home and rang up Aman’s phone number.

“Bhaai, I miss you here!” Aman said rather loudly as soon as he picked up the call.

“Kaisa hai? How’s the project work going on? Bangalore is treating you well or not?” Saarthak asked him, in his usual calm and soothing tone.

“Arreh! Sabb badhiyaa. The organizer is superb. Kal raat hi aayi hai, quite an impressive personality. And, a very unusual name she has got! Vaahika!” Aman told Saarthak without having any idea of what has been going on with his best friend from the past few days.

Before Saarthak could say anything the phone call got disconnected and when he tried to call him again, it was out of reach.

Damn!

After trying several times, when he couldn’t get through, Saarthak put his phone aside and came out in the balcony of his room and lit a cigarette. Gazing at the sky full of stars, he thought everything that has been happening with him since few days.

Saarthak was 21, having a clean slate when people talked about love and relationship involvement. He never happened to get attracted to someone (read: anyone) because nobody inspired him to be. There were a lot of friends, good acquaintances but never a person whom he fell for or felt for.

But this mystery girl had him at one glance, and now this uneasiness. He was in Delhi and she, in Bangalore. The only way to find out more about her was Aman now. Hence, he decided to talk to him as soon as possible.

“When are you coming back?” Saarthak asked on phone, when Aman called him next morning.

“Day after tomorrow!”  Aman replied.

“Aur bataa, apni impressive organizer ke baare me?” Saarthak asked teasing, though praying in his heart.

“I’ll tell in detail after I come back. But, long story short, I have never met a girl quite like her.” Aman said, appreciating her.

Disconnecting the phone Saarthak thought that why he hesitated asking more about her. He even tried convincing himself that it’s mere infatuation happening and should be let gone.

Aman was back home after two days and he pinged Saarthak asking him to meet post dinner in the society lane.

They met and Aman was gleaming.

“So? Spill everything that I missed to experience.” Saarthak asked.

“Hahaa! The project instead of being a task was so much fun. God! Vaahika is amazing. Beautiful girl. There had not been a single evening when she didn’t make us dance, sing, mimic, run around and play silly games. People would get tired and she would bring hot coffee along with snacks, crack funny jokes, tickle and tease whoever she could find. And, best was the part, when she would give a big hug whenever someone felt low or finish their tasks at given time. Though, it is a little filmy to say, but her jhappis  were magical. I swear I have never come across a girl like her, so cheerful, enthusiastic and elegant. See!” Aman showed him the pictures he had of her. In all of them, she was either dancing or jumping or teasing and tickling people.

“Cute toh hai. Kya Hot bhi hai?” Saarthak winked at Aman.

Hearing which, Aman told him that she is going to be in Delhi soon to organize a fest and assured him that they both will meet her as soon as she arrives. 

“Tu khud bataayio milke mujhko baad me!” Aman replied.

A month passed by and one day while having lunch Aman’s phone rang up. Because it was an unknown number he couldn’t know who is calling.

He picked up the call and it was Vaahika on the other line.

On phone she told him that she’s going to arrive in Delhi the next day. He was happy hearing that and asked her if she needed to be picked up from airport.

“Naa! But yes, you text me your address on this number and I’ll come to meet you and handover the fest passes as well. Also, I want to have those tasty paraanthaas, you have bragged about, in Bangalore, that your mother makes.” Vaahika said.

“Arreh tu aa toh sahi. I’ll text you the address. See you soon, ladki!”  Aman replied, beaming 

Saarthak has been hearing the conversation while wrapping up the lunch. They talked about it, way back home and Aman told Saarthak that he should be staying at his place tomorrow if he wants to meet her to which he of course agreed.

Next day, post returning from college, Aman’s mother and Saarthak were preparing potato filled breads when the doorbell rang. Saarthak ran for it before Aman could.

He opened the door and there she was.

She had tied her hair in a messy bun, was wearing a salwaar-kurti, carrying a handbag on her shoulder and a folder in her hand.

Saarthak was beaming seeing her after so long but felt like yesterday. He smiled wide. However, Vaahika looked shocked.

“Hi! Long time, eh?” Saarthak said, extending his hands towards her.

“You?” Vaahika recognized Saarthak but was shocked to see him at Aman’s place, little did she know that this guy was the best friend of her friend.

“Yes! Me, Saarthak. Come on in, Vaahika! Don’t worry, you haven’t mistaken. It’s Aman’s place only.” She shook hands with him for the second time, but the reactions however reversed.

 ◦ 

©®Nisha Mishra 

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