Finally the bus started moving, and by the time everybody boarded up and started towards their destination Anjali let out a huge breath and was already leaving her worries behind. She still didn’t know how she ended up here on this bus, with these people. She knew she was forced into this 10 day trip organized by a friend of a friend of a friend of somebody. But she had not wanted to come, she wanted to be back home with her sister, sharing her tears. But her sister had pushed and her best friend Ruchi had pulled. Ruchi needed a companion as the trip was from her boyfriend’s side and she needed somebody from her side. Anjali always found it hard to say no to Ruchi, when she requested with those big eyes, she could never deny her.
So here she was between virtual strangers for a 10 day supposed enjoyment. Maybe this was better, she thought, she needed breathing space, so much had happened recently. She needed time to gather her wits back, to keep herself sane. Only then she could take care of her sister. After all her sister was her only family left in this whole wide world. She wanted to come out of this melancholy.
“So where are we actually going?” asked Anjali turning towards Ruchi.
“Some huge farmhouse, belonging to somebody in the line of friends. Supposedly he has come back from England after many years and invited some of his friends, his friends called their friends and so on and so forth, it became this huge group of virtual strangers. And rumour is when he heard about all these invitations he laughed out loud and arranged for various sports and entertainments. Seems like a nice fellow from what I heard”
After many days Anjali laughed from her heart, Ruchi was always like this, you ask one question and she gives you 100 answers.
“Ruchi I have no idea why you even get nervous, you don’t even need a reason to talk” smiled Anjali.
Anjali faced the window on her left side and enjoyed the night breeze, they had a full 8 hour travel before they reached the place.
When everybody in the bus were drifting off to sleep Anjali was still awake thinking about her sister. Remembering how foolish she was to believe that conniving, two timing bastard that he will take care of her sweet nice sister. Tears welled up on its own accord, she looked around embarrassed to see if anybody noticed her tearing up. Only to notice that everybody was asleep, she again faced the darkness, breeze and solitude. Welcoming the fresh scent of rain and stars into her system.
By the time Anjali fell asleep, 5 hours out of 8 hours of journey was over and by the time they reached the house, she still hadn’t finished her sleep and so was feeling very irritated and groggy. Her skin felt sticky from salty feature in the air and her hair was messed up because of sleeping in the bus. She stepped down from the bus and collected her bags and then she realized that she had come to a house- no, she corrected herself - a sea facing mansion which looked like it was here from the time of British or maybe even before them. But it was beautiful nonetheless.
When everybody around were walking towards the house to get their rest and to freshen up, Anjali was walking towards the dock to look out towards ocean. Enjoying the salty breeze and thanking Ruchi for pulling her here. That’s when she saw him, all greasy and messed up. Looked like he was fixing up the little motor boat, but he had an aura which made her look regardless of his state. Anjali realized that she was staring and she turned to look towards the ocean, at that moment he looked up to her. There was curiosity and questions in his eyes but also humour. Anjali felt the blush rising up in her skin to be caught staring, very haughtily she turned and walked towards the house.
She was shown to her room, where she freshened up but all the while his eyes were bothering her, gazing at her.
“No, I wont think about him, he is just a mechanic. Whats wrong with me, its like these handsome, low lying-fortuneless-good for nothing- idiots who trap woman and use them” she thought. Anjali let out a huge sigh and thought “Isnt that what happened to Ritu didi”
She came down for lunch to notice that already everybody were down there and had started enjoying the vacation. She was the last one to come down. As soon as she came down Ruchi rushed to her side with her boyfriend and while they were convincing her that this is the best place for vacation ever, she again saw him approaching her.
“Naveen, wont you introduce me to your friend” he said, his voice had a rich baritone timbre in it. It was exactly how Anjali had imagined it would be.
But he didn’t wait for Naveen to introduce him.
He stretched his hand towards her and introduced himself “Hi, Shah rukh khan here”
‘What’ Anjali said with astonishment
He laughed, a huge open laugh which will bring a smile on others face, that kind of laugh.
“Am sorry, you were looking so stunned I had to prank you” he said.
Anjali was fuming for falling for this obvious trap, she added another nickname for him, low lying- fortuneless-good for nothing-idiot-prankster.
“Am sorry, am not Shah rukh khan as you obviously know, but I am Pradhyumna Purohit, friends call me Puru” his hand was outstretched again, but this time she knew he was not playing with her. Involuntarily she smiled when she stretched her hand to meet his but she immediately wiped off that smile from her face and doned a mask of aloofness
“Anjali” she said with haughtiness. He looked he was amused by her manner.Puru was amused, very intrigued by this woman who looked like she really was trying very hard not to like him, not to smile at him. The first time he saw her, he was stunned looking at her. He was convinced that she was not the very beautiful woman but she had an attitude, a strength of character which was more attracting. At that time her hair was disheveled and she looked tired but still she stood with a confidence and was enjoying the nature while others were complaining about the saltiness in the air. He was immediately curious to know about her. And when he saw her coming down the stairs, he corrected himself, she was very very beautiful, he had to make her smile. He had to make her see him.
“Anjali” he looked like he was tasting the name on his tongue, “very nice name, nice to meet you. And welcome to my humble abode. A place I call home” he grinned, trying to put her at ease. But that statement just made her more nervous.
His home, his home, that means he was not a low lying stupid, she had to strike out that name from the list. He was obviously rich so he didn’t need to trap woman for money. She was not ready to let go of the defence of a bad guy and look at him like a normal guy, because she confessed to herself, she was obviously a bit attracted to him.
Aah ha, she thought, this is maybe his father’s money and he is a spoilt brat bent on spending the hard work of his father. She smiled as she was glad that she found another reason against him. So a new name list rich spoilt brat-good for nothing-idiot-prankster.
Even though the conversation was light, Puru’s eyes never left Anjali and the best part was that she knew it.
By the end of the day, Anjali was familiar with everybody around and everybody had started admiring her. She was resourceful, helpful and she was game to play any game.
Puru also noticed all these things, and the things he liked about her grew.
After dinner Anjali joined Ruchi, Naveen and their friends for a cup of coffee on the Balcony. Just below in the garden some of them had lit bonfire and were playing antakshari. Anjali was smiling listening to songs when her attention was brought by the name Puru. She glanced to see that one of Naveen’s friend was talking about him. Unwantedly her attention got fixed on him.
“I have to admit I envied him when we were friends in school, he was rich, popular. But when I came to know about his parents, I felt very bad for him. His dad died when he was very young, even though they were rich from generations, because his mom was not very capable to handle all these, by the time Puru finished his engineering, they had lost everything. They were virtually on street. Only because of his hardwork and intelligent mind did he gain all these and more back. It is very sad Auntie is not here to see her son’s success, she passed away two years back.”
Anjali felt a stab of sympathy towards Puru, she knew the pain of losing both the parents. Atleast she had Ritu didi, imagining Puru all alone in his world twisted her heart in pain. Oh no! she groaned to herself thinking “he is not a spoilt brat at all, he is hardworking, intelligent guy, I have to cut out those also”.
“Maybe he is arrogant, he has tobe arrogant. Self made guys are very very irritatingly arrogant. Yep, that’s the reason I don’t like him” thought Anjali mentally rearranging his name now ‘irritatingly arrogant-idiot-prankster’.
Anjali felt tired with so much excitement physically and emotionally. And she had to call her sister also, so she left the group in their own discussions and entered the house. And ran headlong into Puru, by the time she realized what had happened, she was in his arms and he was supporting her by embracing her.
For a moment she had no idea what to do, from such near distance he looked more handsome, more real and more reachable. She never knew when from her own accord her hands came to rest on his cheek, only when a groan escaped from his throat and his eyes turned darker, she was snapped back to this world. She immediately freed herself, thanked him for helping and left in a hurry.
Puru saw the change of emotions in her eyes, surprise, attraction, affection, realization, anger and fear. He wondered how a person be so expressive and yet so closed, every moment with her was making him crave for her more and more. And why fear, why did he see fear in her eyes. He was used to women falling all over him for his attention and here was this one woman he really wants to know and she had fear in her eyes. In those beautiful big honey brown eyes.
Over the days, where ever Anjali was she could find Puru, this favoritism was not unnoticed by others also. And in this time Anjali had to strike out the nicknames and she found it very hard to add new ones.
Puru was very jovial, happy go lucky guy. He supported a number of charities and was very modest to ever mention them. He had a strength in him which was the core of his personality but he had the courtesy to bend for anybody who is worth it. He was hard with dishonesty and he stroked the fire of honesty in others. He appreciated somebody whole heartedly. But never took fools seriously. Anjali was finding that she is grasping at straws when she couldn’t find anything to hate him. He was a genuinely a good guy.
Puru could see the fight going on in her, once he would find her laughing and joking with him and the next moment she would sober and go away. But still he was intrigued. He had seen her laughing around others, helping the staff in his house. He had seen caring and kindness in her. And he had also figured out that only around him she acted different and haughty. He knew he was attracted to her, very potently to her personality, that’s why her behaviour puzzled him so much. He was very anxious to find the reason behind it and he didn’t have much time.
That day everybody was supposed to go to hiking but he changed the plans and arranged for para-gliding. He had an ulterior motive for this, from Anjali’s best friend he had learned that Anjali was afraid of heights, so he was very sure that she would opt out of it.
Most of the guests went to enjoy paragliding, leaving Anjali and a few more who were not comfortable with heights.
Anjali was trying to find a book to read in the huge extensive library in that place, when Puru entered the room. He made sure that nobody was around, and he of course knew nobody will come to library. There were no book enthusiasts like Anjali and Puru.
Puru stood by the door and watched Anjali silently, contemplating what to tell her, how to approach her. While he was still in these thoughts, Anjali turned towards him, and immediately she blushed to roots of her hair.
“Am sorry I was bored so I came down to see if I can get some book to read. I didn’t know you were still in the house or else I would have asked your permission” said Anjali.
Puru smiled and waved off her comment “No problem, you are welcome to browse through and take any book. You don’t need any permission to go anywhere and take anything in this house”
The meaning in his words hit Anjali hard. She thought with surprise “what does he mean that I don’t need permission on anything, is he hitting on me. Does he think that am like that kind of a woman who will just fall head over heels just because he gave me full freedom in his house”. With every word her temper rose to a new level.
“I am grateful for your hospitality Mr.Purohit...”
Immediately puru cut her words and said “its Puru’
“no, Mr.Purohit, not Puru. Am sure you didn’t mean anything unwanted by your words but I don’t let people take such familiar tone with me without my permission. Am thankful for your offer to use your library but I didn’t intend to ask for anything more” She finished with tremor in her voice. Blood was rushing through her at a breakneck speed. While she kept reminding herself, as to why she has to stay away from his kind of guys.
Puru’s eyes also were crackling with indignation “Am sorry Anjali but I didn’t mean anything disrespectful towards you. I like you and you have gained my respect and in that light I said those words. You need not take it so personally”
Anjali looked up to stare at him to only find that he was no more near the door, he was standing right in front of her. Watching her, learning her, trying to understand her. But she didn’t want him to watch her, she didn’t want him to learn about her or try to understand her. She wanted him to be far far away from her. But right now she felt trapped, trapped under his gaze. In his huge library with door open she felt like she was caged and she is not able to move, not able to escape from his eyes, from his attention.
Puru was watching her eyes intently and suddenly he asked “again fear, why do you fear me. Did I ever hurt you by my words or actions, have I behaved savagely in front of you. Why this fear ? I liked you the moment I saw you near the sea, and everyday you gave me more reasons to like you. I want you to like me, I want that first emotion of affection and attraction stay in eyes and not drift off to fear.”
Anjali tried to shove him off telling “move out of my way Puru, I don’t want to talk about this to you”
Puru caught her hands and brought of more near and spoke in a whisper “Why?”. That single soft word broke her reserve and her eyes flared up in anger.
She shouted “Why, Why. Because, it was a guy like you who ruined my sister’s life. Because it was guy like you that my sister is in so much pain now. I never should have come to this place” And she started crying hard.
Puru gathered her into his arms and consoled her by whispering words of sympathy and courage in her ears.
After a long time Anjali gained her semblance back and tired to shove him off again. But puru held her more tightly and said “You have to tell me, I wont let go until you tell me. Please share it with me, I want to know. You are accusing me of something I have not done. I want to know the reason. You owe me”
Anjali didn’t want to weaken, so she gathered all her anger and pushed him and stood a considerable distance away from him facing the window. When he didn’t approach or leave her. She told him
“His name is Suraj Sharma. My brother-in-law, no not brother-in-law, he is my ex brother-in-law. My elder sister Ritu fell in love him, and he promised the world to her. Our parents died years back and we sisters are the only family we have. When I met him for the first time, I thought gods have graced my sister with a happy life, she doesn’t have to work and worry about me anymore. He came across as a very sweet, decent and nice guy who genuinely loved my sister. But all his colours started showing after marriage. He had believed that the house we are living is our own. But after marriage he came to know that, that house was my father’s best friend’s who were kind people to let us live in that huge house without rent or remuneration. Then it started the blame game, the drinking, the beating the cheating. He was behind her trust fund and house. And when he came to know that he cant touch the trust fund under any circumstance. He went mad with anger and he hit her black and blue. Ritu didi till that day never told me what she was suffering. And I was so caught in my world that I never noticed the little telltale signs. If only I took more care of her, she could have been out of that hell way before. And on that day she left home and came to me. We filed for her divorce and lodged a complaint against him in the police station. Finally just 15 days back her divorce was finalized and he got a imprisonment for abusing my sister.”
There was a lengthy pause after Anjali finished her story. She wiped her eyes and collected herself and turned towards him telling “Now you know why I don’t like guys like you.”
Puru spoke in a strong voice “I am not your brother-in-law Anjali and don’t you dare compare me to that conniving bastard. I would never raise my hand against any woman and especially not against the woman I love. And what money, I don’t need money. I can on hand buy 10 people like your brother-in-law to work for me........... “ he fell silent for a while, noticing that her eyes were again glowering with anger and fear.
He softened his voice and said while approaching her “don’t fight me Anjali, do you really think am like him. I like you, I really really like you. How can I convince you that am not like him. Am me, am Puru. Please Anjali , I know you like me, I have seen it in your eyes, in your smile. Don’t let fear and doubt cloud your affections. Please”
“No, no stay there only Puru, don’t come near me. I cant think when you are near me. And I need to think. You are not like him I know that, but I don’t want to like you. I don’t want to live my life fearing when you might turn out be like him. In this last few days I have tried to find many reasons to hate you. I failed, but still I cant trust you. I cant trust myself around you. ..” after a second’s pause, Anjali looked up to Puru and asked him “Would you do me a favour?”
“Anything sweetheart, you just name it”
“Please Puru, give me one reason to hate you. All my defences are crumbling around me and all I can think is how good you are. I don’t want to think that. Just give me one reason to hate you. I cant trust myself to find a reason to hate you. But I don’t want to like you, please.”
Puru was stunned by this unusal request “who will ask somebody to give a reason to hate them. Does she really want to be so far away from me. Am I a not that deserving for her to look through her sister’s pain and recognise what I feel for her.” He thought with despair, anger and anguish.
Puru drew a long breath and steeled his mind and told “Am sorry Anjali, I cant do that. You are capable enough to weigh everybody in the same scales as your brother-in-law. Then you can find a good reason to hate me by yourself. Don’t worry I believe in you capability. Am sure I deserve it for laying down my affections at your feet and asking for you to let go of your fear towards me. Good luck with your reasons” and he walked away, leaving a stunned, perplexed Anjali behind alone. Very very alone.
By the time everybody came back from their adventures, Anjali had packed her bags and booked her ticket to take her back home. She stayed as long as she can say good bye to Ruchi and Naveen and a hoard of new friends. Telling everybody that she has some emergency back home and she has to go.
By the time she reached home Anjali had hardened herself against the dreary possibility that maybe, just maybe she had fallen in love with a guy, against whom she is trying to find a reason to hate. When Ritu saw the state of Anjali, she knew immediately that something terrible had happened. Anjali poured her heart out to Ritu and looked up for solace.
Ritu with all the anger in the world told her “You are stupid fool Anju, a stupid idiotic fool. Just because one guy was bad enough for 4 worlds hell doesn’t mean all the guys in this world are bad. Then do you think even dad treated mom like that, what about our cousins, uncles, relatives, and friends. Are all of them bad. I made a mistake Anju doesn’t mean you will also make the same mistake. It is not an DNA thing you know You are just afraid that you might fall in love with this guy and afraid that, that will give power to him to rule you.. ......” Ritu saw that her words had pricked Anjali and realization hit her. “Oh my god, you already love him don’t you, Oh my baby sister you are hurting because you love him. Oh what a mess. Now what will you do?”
“Nothing Ritu didi, I cant do anything now. He laid his heart out and I stomped all over it with my prejudices. Only to realize later that I love that stupid stupid guy. What will I do now didi, what will I do now”
Ritu hugged Anjali and she cried her heart out.
After a few days, life returned to normal. In between Ruchi called to inform she is back in town, which brought a new wave of tears and sadness to Anjali.
One day she came back tired from work, to find her sister beaming at her at the doorstep.
“What happened didi, seems like you won a lottery.”
“Anju why don’t you freshen up and go to garden, and I will bring coffee over there itself ok.”
“Ok” said Anjali. Anjali cleaned up and went to the garden and what she saw there gave her a mini heart attack.
Puru smiled hesitantly and stood over there waiting for her to approach.
Anjali walked towards him and stood a few feet away from him and asked “how ... what.... Why are you here?”
“Whenever somebody asks me a favour I try my best to fulfill it. Anjali you asked me a favour that day, remember”
“You asked me to give you a reason to hate you. I am here to give you that reason”
Anjali braced herself to hear the worst.
“The reason is that I am an idiot and stupid guy. Because I have fallen in love with you Anjali, I have fallen head over heals in love with you, so much that I pestered my friends for your address and against your wishes and their warnings, I walked up to your place to give you a reason. That Me, Pradhyumna Purohit loves you so much that even after you explicitly explained me why you can’t love me I am a fool and an idiot to walk over your to place my heart at your feet with full knowledge that you might break it into thousands of pieces. There that is your reason, that I am a fool and an idiot, who still hopes that the affection I saw in your eyes were not false"
Anjali was stunned to as to what she was hearing.
After a pause Puru said again "If you cant accept the reason to hate me, I can give you many many reasons to love me. I will always love you, I will cherish you and protect you. I will never ever leave you. I will always make you laugh and whenever you get angry and ask me for a reason for anything. I will try my hardest that I find you a reason for anything you ask. Please Anjali consider this reason and love me."
Anjali was smiling while tears were streaming down her eyes.
“Oh Puru, I do hate you so much, I hate that there is no reason to hate you, I hate that even now when you gave a reason yourself, I find it unreasonable and I hate you because you made me fall in love with you so much that it hurts. Trying to hate you hurts more than trying not to love you. And your reason to love is worth everything for me.”
Anjali ran into Puru’s arms and found love and peace in her heart. Ritu stood behind the curtains and smiled for her sister, that at least she had found a person she deserved.