25 November 2008
New Delhi Railway Station
“Yes, Sir. I’ll handle the presentation. Don’t worry. By the way, do send me the contact details. I’ve just boarded the train.”, I speak as I take my window seat.
“Sure Kabir. I just got their mail. Will text you the same. Have a happy and a safe journey. Text me once you reach there.”
“Sure Sir.”, I disconnect the call.
From being called upon for an all of a sudden urgent meeting by my boss to being given tatkal tickets for a Mumbai train, the past thirty minutes has been a roller coaster ride. Apparently, a budding startup from Mumbai has shown interest in the software application which my team has been developing since a while. They have asked for a demo session wherein we can showcase them the product and clear their doubts. Since I’m the team lead, I was asked to go, and I happily agreed without any further thought. This was the perfect opportunity to go back to my hometown and experience the city of dreams after so long. The fact that the two-day trip would be funded entirely by the company makes things even better.
As the train leaves the platform, I gaze through the window, thinking about what all I’ll have to do once I reach there. Pramod’s text breaks my reverie.
Sending you the contact details of the person you’ve to meet once you reach Mumbai. I’ve forwarded your details to them too. All the best!
CEO, Essentials Media Group
The next second I close my eyes and mutter to myself.
The very mention of her name has opened a box of memories which I had decided never to open again. Those four years of engineering were one of the most confusing and struggling times of my life. And once college ended, I shifted to Delhi due to my job and eventually lost contacts. But Divya was one contact which I was glad to lose after all.
For the first two years, we never crossed paths although we were in the same class. I was too focussed on scoring pointers, freelancing on projects and performing well for the college football team. On the other hand, she was busy bunking classes, participating in intercollege dance events, being an active member of the college fest committee and at the same time keeping away the horde of boys who fell for her, friend-zoning all of them without any mercy.
It wasn’t until December of 2003 when we finally had a conversation. Apparently, the entries for the coding event of the fest had touched an all-time low, and she had decided to hunt down and lure the first benchers and the topper gang to participate in them.
“So there’s this event called Source Code which is basically a coding competition. It has three rounds – debugging, algorithms and..”, she tried getting my attention, showing me the event brochure.
“Yes, I’ve heard about it. I’m interested. What’s the participation fees?”, I cut her mid-air.
“Fifty Rupees only,” she wasn’t surprised how quickly I agreed. Most of the boys did the same, enamoured by her beauty and the way she spoke. Divya knew this, and I was sure she felt this was just one of those cases.
But it wasn’t. One of the reasons why I decided to give the nod was because I’m pretty confident of my coding skills. The lucrative prize money of 2000 Rupees was the other. She had no influence on me saying a yes to participate in the contest.
Eventually, I won the competition, and my family was more than happy for what I did. We were deep down in financial turmoil, yet Baba had somehow managed to put me in a decent engineering college. For a family that was finding it difficult to make ends meet and whose hopes reside solely on me, this was a good sign.
Divya was present when I was declared the winner. She came ahead and congratulated me. She was about to say more, but I had said my formal thanks and left already.
The next day I spot her near the football ground. Maybe she was just loitering around after the college, as usual. But I could feel her eyes on me. It felt odd, but then I decided to ignore her and focus on the game instead. This continued for a few more days, and finally, when she realised I won’t make any move, she decided to initiate a conversation herself.
“Hey, Kabir! Wassup?”
“All good. You say.”
“Nothing much. Was just watching the team train, and I’d have to admit – you play very well.”
“Thanks for the compliment.”, I kept it short from my side.
“And you’re a great coder too. Hiding any other talent in there huh?”, she smiled.
“Nah. You’re just showering me with compliments for no reason. Come directly to the point.”
“Well, I needed some help with my project which we have to submit next week. My team is clueless. So I was thinking of asking your help.”
“Umm..sure. I’m done with mine anyways. I can help you. And since your project is based on networking, it’ll only add to my knowledge.”
“Thanks a lot! Can I have your number?”
And that started it all.
For a week, I met her after my football sessions to help her with her project. During those two hour meetups, she made it too obvious that she had fallen for me through her actions. On the other hand, I acted all formal, focussing all my attention towards the code, keeping away from any romantic advances of her.
Soon, she started hanging out with me after college. We were spotted together often and it instantly became a hot topic for gossip lovers. I had to answer a lot of questions from my friends, clarifying that we weren’t in a relationship. Nevertheless, they never believed my words, so I stopped responding to their queries after a while. Divya, on the other hand, kept people guessing with vague answers. I realised she was enjoying all this attention, but deep down was hoping I’d ask her out first.
But I never looked at Divya as my partner. I was sure she’d get bored of me after a while and then dump me when she finds someone better. I had no time for a temporary relationship then.
The final year was marred by the usual: assignments, journals, tests, and projects. Our bond went from good to better. By this time everyone had kind of confirmed in their minds that Kabir and Divya are in a relationship. She dropped hints from time to time telling me she was ready to take our friendship to the next level. But I had no intentions of doing so. For me, she is just a friend. Nothing more. Nothing less.
And then came the day when hell broke loose. The day I knew would come soon. The day she proposed me.
We had wrapped up the not-too-emotional formal farewell event held by the juniors. The main highlight of the day was the late night party the Sinha brothers had organised at their farmhouse. Everyone at the party was busy clicking pictures, dancing with their gang and making fake promises of not losing contact after the final exams. Divya was beside me all the while, continually blabbering about how Nisha’s dress was better than her’s, how much time she spent on choosing the outfit for tonight and how much she will miss me during the preparatory leave before the exams. I kept on listening, as usual, letting out a customary sigh in between. When I didn’t respond much to her worldly talks, she realised it’s time to stop her rant.
“You alright Kabir?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“You seem to be lost in thought. What’s the matter?”
“Nothing much. Just thinking how much life is going to change after college ends. I’ll shift to Delhi. People will move on slowly, getting used to their new routine, adjusting to their job, meeting new people, making a new friend circle. Slowly we’ll all forget about each other.”
She went quiet, reflecting upon this thought.
A few moments later she handed me a glass of wine and said some of the most sensible yet cliché words I’ve ever heard from her.
“Distance doesn’t matter if the bond is strong, Kabir. We always tend to make time for the people we truly care about. So stop worrying about it and enjoy the moment.”, she smiled before going towards the small podium where the DJ was trying his best to entertain the crowd.
Two more vodka shots and she was ready to go.
“Hey everyone!”, she snatched the mic from the DJ who was taken aback by her gesture.
“Sorry for interrupting the party guys, but I’ve something to say.”, she blurted out.
She had everyone’s attention in a second. The DJ stopped the music, and we waited in pin drop silence.
“This is a message for you – yes you,” she pointed towards me, “the most caring person I’ve ever met till date.”
At that very instant, I knew this was trouble.
“Thanks for sticking with me through the tough times, thanks for all the 2 am talks, thanks for making me realise how pure and caring someone can be. Thanks for everything you’ve done for me till date Kabir. I would never forget your deeds in my entire lifetime. You mean so much to me that I can’t express it in words.”
Well, you could’ve if it weren’t for the 12 vodka shots you’ve consumed.
“All I’d like to say for now is that I love you very much, Kabir. I really do. I hope you too feel the same for me.”, she came towards me, the mic waiting for an answer.
The next second everyone’s gaze shifted towards me. I never expected her to pop up this question in the open. But now that she had did it, and there’s no escape, I had to say the inevitable.
Her expression was priceless. The mic fell from her hand, and she stood still like a statue. On the other hand, the crowd let out a collective sigh of disbelief.
“What a dumbass! Who says a no to the prettiest girl in the campus?”, I heard one of them.
“Are you out of your mind Kabir?”, she shook me.
“That’s the same question I had for you Divya.”
“Why the heck did you say a NO!?”, she shouted at the top of her voice, still in shock how someone just plainly refused her proposal.
“I have my reasons Divya. But can we talk about this later?”, I tried to save her from further public humiliation, but she had other plans.
“No! I want to hear ‘em right now! Right. Now.”, she slurred. The vodka had begun its effect.
“Let it be. We can talk later. You are not in your senses.”, I say and try to escape from the place. All these eyeballs on us had got me nervous.
“No! I won’t leave you unless you tell me the reason, Kabir.”, she caught me from behind.
“Okay then. You asked for an answer. You’ll have it. Just don’t regret asking me this right in front of everyone.”
She gestured me to continue.
“All this time you thought that I too loved you and the only reason why I haven’t told you yet is that I’m shy. Well, just to clear things up – I was never even interested in you romantically Divya. You clearly aren’t my type. You were just a friend for me. Never in my imagination can I see both of us together in a relationship. It just won’t work out. Even if it does, I know you’ll get bored of me and dump me soon. I’m cent percent sure about this. Temporary relationships are just not my thing. This is the reason why I never proposed to you. I knew you’ll run out of patience and ask me out one day. But doing it today would be one of the most idiotic decisions you’ve taken till date. This one is going to bug you forever.”
Seeing her crestfallen, I walk away. But she stopped me in my tracks. Holding my hand, she looked at me with anger and sadness in her eyes; her tears ruining her overdone makeup, her hair a jumbled mess.
“You know what Kabir? You don’t deserve me at all. You’re such a selfish prick! You’ve no sense of right and wrong. You never took efforts on your own. You are the most unromantic person I’ve seen in my life. Go to hell Kabir!”
I managed to sneak in a smile at her sorry state.
“Promise me, we’ll never ever meet again.”
For a second, I felt it was a joke. But her expressions said otherwise. This was an indirect challenge wherein I had nothing to lose. I was sure the first thing she’d do the next day would be meeting me and apologising for what all she did under the influence of alcohol.
“I promise you. We’ll never meet again.”, I smiled, letting go of her hand, leaving the party.
But the next day I realised that she wasn’t fooling around with the promise. I decided to go all in too. If she can keep her promise, I can too.
She never met me after that night. No messages. No contacts. Nothing.
Soon after my exams, I left for Delhi and the busy training period got the better of me. Divya became a distant thought, and slowly I forgot about her existence.
This was a cruel joke from destiny’s side. I know some things are meant to happen, but this was plain bizarre. It also meant I’d break my promise which indirectly meant I will lose the challenge.
But she should’ve got my contact details too. The fact that she hasn’t called me up yet shows how much firm she is on this four-year-old promise of hers. But whatever be the case, I’m not going to initiate this conversation.
Mathura Railway Station
As I have a sip from my evening tea, I stare at the SMS Pramod had sent me a few hours ago. I was sure I won’t text her first, but with each passing moment, I feel like giving up on this stupid promise I had kept on for so long. I no longer want ego to come between us.
I finally decide to press ‘Send’ on the message I’ve kept in the draft for about an hour now. It went something like this:
K: Divya, I know that you’re expecting this message from me since the moment Pramod has sent you my contact details. I knew you’d not text me first – so here I am, making the first move, unlike the college days. The ball is now in your court.
I knew it was quite late for me to send an SMS but I felt she should be well awake till now. Guiding a startup and sleeping as early as 12:30 is something I haven’t heard of. And I knew from our late night calls she is clearly a night owl and definitely not a morning person. But it has been four years, so I can’t say for sure. Time changes people, their habits.
A part of me wanted her to reply as soon as possible, ending this weird tension between us. But that hope was quickly put to rest as I didn’t receive any.
A night of uneasy sleep lies ahead for me.
The first thing I do after waking up is to check my phone for any reply from her, but alas, there wasn’t any. Now, I feel like a fool for texting her first. I could’ve been more stern in my approach and forced her to make the first move. As I was about to go back to sleep my phone rings with a notification. I get up and unlock my phone in excitement – only to see it being a text from AirTel welcoming me to Madhya Pradesh, reminding me of my roaming charges.
I’m busy editing my presentation for tonight as I receive a text from Divya. It read:
D: Well, nice to know you’ve learned some manners finally! 🙂
That’s it. A one-liner to dissolve all the tension. I was disappointed it took her about half a day to do that.
I type down my mind:
K: Yes, I had to. After all, manners maketh a man. Hoping you’ve learned a bit yourself.
I was about to hit ‘send’ but then my mind asked me to stop. An instant reply will only give her an upper hand and will make you look like an idiot, desperate to talk to her. Time to play the game – her way.
Once I’m done preparing my presentation slides aptly filled with numbers, graphs and figures, I shift my attention to my phone and hit ‘Send.’ I’m sure this late reply of mine will irk her and give her a taste of her own medicine. I smile to myself as I place my order for lunch.
Surat Railway Station
I receive her reply which goes:
D: If you think replying late will give you a sense of self-accomplishment – fine. If you feel it’ll irritate me, then you’re living under an illusion Mr Roy.
The tone of her message itself conveyed that she didn’t like me using the trick of her trade. I decide to keep this game going. I type my reply and save it to draft before going in for a nap,
K: Overthinking always makes things messy Divya. Seems you still have a lot of life lessons to cover.
I hit ‘send’ as I munch on some snacks, re-reading the evening newspaper. I expected to get a reply by 7, but to my surprise she replied instantly.
D: Irony is Kabir Roy chirping about life lessons.
I’m enjoying this now.
K : Can we just cut some slack on me and accept the fact that you’ve only become more stubborn and smug over the years?
D : Agreed on that one ;p
K: By the way, where’ll you receive me? My train stops at Mumbai Central.
D: I’ll pick you up at CST. Just text me 10 minutes before you reach.
That was surely the last of our texting game before we meet in person, wherein I’ll lose the challenge, breaking my promise.
Dadar Railway Station
My trust in the inefficiency and ‘punctuality’ of Indian Railways was reaffirmed as my train is about two hours late as I touch down Mumbai. The next challenge is to sift and move through the Dadar crowd and get a train to my destination.
A few minutes later I board the 09:11 Ambernath – CST fast local. As I reach Byculla, I text her about my whereabouts. She replied that she in on her way to the station. My stomach riles up in nervousness and excitement thinking about the moment we will see each other. I keep a check by reminding myself that I’m on a business trip and not on vacation. She is my client now. Making her believe in the product and getting her to sign the deal should be my top priority.
But my mind just couldn’t stop from thinking about the various possibilities of our first meeting after so long.
My eyes search for her as I get off from the local, but in vain. The next moment I call her up.
“Hey, Divya..where are you? I’m on platform 4.”
“I’m near the ticket counter.”
“Sure, I’ll come in a minute.”
After taking in a deep breath, I walk towards the counter. That’s when I hear something unusual. Gunshots.
The next second pandemonium strikes the place as people run for their lives. Dumbstruck and confused, I run too – only to be spotted by two heavily loaded men with AK-47 in their hands. I make a dash for the opposite direction, but it was too late. The bullets pierce through my right thigh as I fall on the ground, wincing in pain. I try crawling to find a cover, but it was futile as they splatter me with another round. I scream as I feel my internal organs bleed. I look at the ticket counter, my eyes still hoping for her to turn up somehow. But I realised this promise was not meant to be broken as darkness slowly engulfs me, bringing me peace.
Note from the writer:
Writing after a long break is always a pain. I’m writing a story after a span of three months, the last one being the finale of Project Chronos and I have somehow managed to scrape through to the end.
Talking about the plot – I distinctly remember how I came up with this story. It was the 22nd of November 2017 – a year ago – when I had scribbled a rough storyline thread on Google Keep on my way home from college. My sole focus was to incorporate a real-life event to the plot, and within no time I went ahead with the 2008 attacks. It was decided to be written and published once the exams are over, but it never saw the light of the day – until today. I have been craving to write and publish a story before I join my office (finally) this weekend. Among the three stories I have in my pipeline – this one was selected to go. The other two were under-developed Science Fiction plots and have been shelved for 2019.
Another insight: this story was supposed to be extended to a 3 chapter short novel and was planned to be released under the third season of ‘the collab projekt’ label. I remember pitching this plot to my collaborator during my college days, and he was impressed with the story – especially the climax sequence. But sadly our schedules didn’t sync up, and we couldn’t go ahead with it on time. Also, I feel 25th November is the perfect day to post this story – one day before the 10th anniversary of the 26/11 attacks. So I had to go solo on this one. I’m sure our collab will be as interesting as this one.