Oct 23, 2008

Episode se7en

If you are new to this story, do not start here. Go to the Index and Introduction page.

Preeti had met Arjun at IIM, Bangalore. They were in the same class, but didn't interact in term 1. Preeti, for understandable reasons, was very popular on campus and had made a large group of friends. Arjun was a serious, studious guy who spoke to few, and was invisble to Preeti.

But Term 2 was an eye-opener for Preeti. Nearly all her 'friends' turned out to be competitive, two-faced pricks with no qualms about putting anyone down for personal gain. All this became apparent after term-1 grades were declared and summer placements took place. They didn't invite her to study groups, didn't give her 'meaty' parts of projects on the important courses, and sucked up to professors in class as well as outside. She landed a 'Day zero' summer placement, but people gave credit to her 'looks and personality', rather than her competence. When confronted, they were rude and callous. She realized that none of them took her seriously as an academic/professional peer, and considered her just a pretty-face who was fun to hang out with. Not amused by any of this, Preeti lost most of her 'friends', even having open fights with a few.

Having learnt her lesson, she started keeping to herself, and only a few friends she really trusted. Her best friend now was Vineet. And a good friend of Vineet's was Arjun. Over the course of the first-year, the 3 of them became inseparable.

In the second year, Preeti was elected to the Placement Committee (placecom). Her life was hell - classes, assignments and placecom work kept her seriously busy for 12-14 hours a day. Hunger and hygiene took up another two hours or so. She slept for an average of 5-6 hours daily, and it was affecting her health badly. The only support mechanisms she had - were her helpful neighbor Vijaylakshmi, and her two friends - Vineet and Arjun. They'd help her with her coursework, remind her to call her parents every few days, get her snacks when she needed, and also force her to take a break and get some sleep every now and then. On the rare occasions she did not have any deadline zooming past, the three of them would just meet in one room, talk about random fun stuff, and get drunk (if Preeti didn't have deadlines to meet the next morning). Vineet was chirpy and childish, and Preeti and he chatted a lot. Arjun was always there, but took the back-seat most of the time. He was the one Preeti turned to when she had something serious to discuss.

In the 5th term, the placecom fell out with the rest of the batch over some allegations. As is typical on such campuses, placecom's methods were a closely guarded secret, and many people were suspicious of them. Everyone knows that placecom has a lot of power, no one knows for sure how 'fairly' they use it, but usually placecom is given the benefit of the doubt because they deliver big promises. 

However, this time some equally-credible people who'd been in the 'war room' team (carefully selected by placecom to assist them during those 3 all-important days), had disagreements with the placecom during the junior batch's summer placements, and had made claims about 'witnessing unfair practices'. This had the whole batch up in arms. It was too late in the year to change the placecom, but lots of questions were being asked in loud voices and nasty tones.

Preeti, under a lot of stress, turned to her two pillars of strength. But one was crumbling. Vineet told Preeti he trusted her, and was going to be her friend no matter what happened, but he also asked her questions about the working of the placecom. He felt, as a close friend, Preeti owed him the answers. Preeti tried to reason with him - their friendship and her placecom role were two different things. She assured him that all allegations were false, and she was a part of placecom because she really believed they'd always done the right thing. She begged him to trust her, and not abuse their friendship to glean information he was not supposed to have. She felt torn between responsibilities as a friend, and a member of placecom. But Vineet didn't let up, and their relationship became strained.

Arjun, on the other had, showed blind faith in her. He had questions too - about the others on placecom. But when it came to Preeti, he just accepted that she would never be part of any wrongdoing, and also respected her decision to not discuss 'placecom matters' with friends she would otherwise trust with her life. That meant a lot to Preeti. Over the year, their relationship became much stronger and deeper than ordinary friendship.

Term 5 ended. Just one term was left now, with only half the normal number of classes to attend, grades not being counted towards final placements, and the entire placecom burden off Preeti (her group had placed all the juniors for the summer, and now the juniors were going to handle her own batch's placements). To celebrate, she, Arjun, Vineet and a couple of others decided to go to Goa for a long weekend.


'We'd been driving around town the whole morning - drinking beer, buying random little mementoes, eating seafood, and evaluating all the hot firang chicks stutting their stuff. Then we came to this beach in the afternoon, ran around playing some childish games, went on a banana boat ride - and enjoyed ourselves so much we could burst with joy. At sunset, everyone else had gone off somewhere. I was reading some book with my iPod plugged in. I put the book down when the light faded, and I saw Arjun sitting next to me, watching me. I don't know how long he'd been just sitting there - just watching me. He took my hand, and didn't say anything. I didn't say anything either. It was perfect - no words were necessary. Then we kissed.'

Warney was listening. He heard, understood and 'recorded' everything in his head. But he wasn't thinking. It was all just too much for him to handle.

'That wasn't so long back. So, what happened.'
'Well, we were together for a few months. But Arjun wasn't cut out for the rat race. He wanted to do something more meaningful. He's gone to the US for his PhD. We decided it was best for us to part.' 
'But, he'll be back, right?'
'Deep. He'll be back after 5 years at least. We couldn't wait that long.'
'Why not? I mean, you two were in love and happy with each other, right? That's not easy to find. And if your parents and all are OK, you can wait...'
'No. First of all, we are from different communities. The parents would NOT be OK with it. And we've just been together for a few months. That couldn't keep us together for 5 years.'
'Not 5. I have friends who've finished their PhDs in 3'
'It's not that, Deep. 3 is very rare, and he'd also have to find a job. It would realistically take at least 4 years, more likely 5. My parents wouldn't wait that long. Not for a guy they don't like in the first place.'
'How do you know? They might like him. I'm sure they'd care how you feel.'
'No. The community thing was going to be difficult anyway. And with him away for 5 years, there's no chance. They WILL get me married to someone else. And honestly, even if they were OK, we weren't sure our relationship would survive 5 years of separation. Lots of things change in 5 years. People change in 5 years.'

'I can't believe you guys just let it go so easily.'
'Easily? Does THIS look easily to you, moron?'
'You can cry. But the fact is - you guys didn't really take your chances. You just gave up without trying.'
'It hurts. If we'd tried, it would've hurt even more. We just decided to keep the happy memories, and move on.'

Warney called for the bill, a bottle of water, and some tissue paper. Preeti was confused.
'What's all that for?'
'For you. We are going back to the party. And I don't want anyone to think I made you cry!'
'No, I'm not going back there now.'
'Yes, you are. I'm not leaving you like this. You'll just go back to your room, keep thinking about Arjun, and will just depress yourself. I'm not going to let that happen. Ab muh dho aur chalo.'

(Continued here)

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