The study holidays made life miserable for Sanjay and Ria. His parents kept a strict watch over him, did not even let him watch TV or go out in the evenings. Ria on the other hand had her parents making her feel like the exams were a cake walk. They persuaded her to go for walks in the evenings so her mind is fresh again for her night study. She tried walking past Sanjay’s house to catch a glimpse of him but his mother was always on the porch sipping her tea.
“I dislike your mother already”, she told him over the phone one night. He laughed. “ I know my parents are a little strict. But I am sure you will like them once you get to know them better”, he said.
“Yeah we’ll see about that”, she said.
He chuckled. “So, what did you do all day?”, he asked.
“Besides thinking of you? Studied”, she said.
“You little devil, I can’t wait to get my hands on you”, he said.
“And then what will you do?”
“You wait and see… shucks got to go. Love you bye”, he hung up.
She smiled and turned to put the phone back in its hook when she saw her father staring at her.
“Is there something you are not telling me?”, he asked. “Papa”, she said looking down. She was embarrassed. “Sit”, he said pulling out a chair for her.
“Look, I’ve passed your age, I’ve been through all this. There is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a natural thing. But all I am asking you is that you finish your studies and then do whatever you like with your life.”
“Papa, I haven’t faltered in my studies”, she protested.
“I see that, that is why I am not angry or upset with you. I do not want you to falter. And you might disagree but at this age, this is just infatuation. Once you grow up there are going to be better men and Sanjay will just be an episode in your life.”
She didn’t know what to say. “I am sorry papa”, she mumbled.
“There is nothing to be sorry about. Once you finish your studies if you still feel the same way about him, believe me I will get you married to him no matter what. But for now, all I ask you to do is to focus on your studies and nothing else.”
“Ok papa”, she said her eyes brimming with tears.
She went into her room and sat at her desk. Her face was flushed. Her ears felt hot. She didn’t know how to react to what her father had just said. The last thing she ever wanted to do was disappoint her father. She thought she would talk to Sanjay about this and put an end to it for the time being. But how could she talk to him with his parents standing guard all the time. And she was not even sure if her father would let her talk if he called.
The next evening, she hit upon an idea. She went out for her fresh breath as always. She cycled towards the grove. She went to the pond and took out the bit of paper she had in her pocket. She bent down to place it near the stone when she felt someone kick her gently from behind. She got such a fright. She turned back to see Sanjay smiling at her.
“How did you get out of your prison?”, she asked.
“Well, told my dad that I wanted to buy a pen and happened to see you ride past. Followed you quietly. What is that?”, he asked snatching the paper from her hand.
“Well, my dad found out and …”
He read through the note. “You mean to say we will not meet or talk again?”
“Just till these exams get over.”
“And then? We’ll go to different colleges and God knows where will we be.”
“Maybe we’ll go to the same college”, she said.
He just stared at her speechlessly. “I can’t Ria, I really can’t do this”, he said.
“It’s hard for me too Sanjay, but my father..”
“You think I don’t have a father? He never liked me talkin to you right from the start, did I stop?”
Ria didn’t know what to say. She burst out crying. He was taken aback. In all these years he had never seen Ria cry. “Ria, don’t”, he said hugging her. “I’ll do whatever it takes to make you happy. Even if it means being away from you”, he said.
She continued crying. She didn’t know what to do or say. He held her close and tried comforting her. He kissed her on her forehead and on her cheeks and on her lips. But she wouldn’t stop crying.
He hugged her tight. “Shhh… that is enough. I am sorry I put you in this mess. I really am”, he said.
“I.. don’t… know.. what.. to …do”, she sobbed. “Shh shh”, he said rocking her.
She stopped crying after a while, dried her tears and started to leave.
“Ria”, he called out.
“I love you and I will be waiting for you”, he said.
She smiled through her tears and left.
Sanjay walked out after sometime and to his shock he saw his father waiting by his bicycle. He saw Sanjay and dragged him home by his collar. That night Sanjay’s father beat him black and blue. “Papa will you listen to me”, Sanjay protested. But his father never listened. He then walked out of the house and went straight to Ria’s house and pounded on the door.
Ria’s mother opened the door.
“Where’s your husband?”, he demanded rudely.
Ria’s father and Ria came running to the door at the commotion. Ria got scared looking at his bloodshot eyes.
“Listen mister, keep your daughter in your control. Ask her not to go about stealing boys from decent households”, he yelled.
“Mr. Rao, please, won’t you come inside?” her father pleaded.
“For what? I just came to warn you about your daughter’s loose morals. Take control of her life before it’s too late.”
“You don’t tell me about my daughter”, said Ria’s father his temper rising. His wife pulled him inside the house and pleaded to Sanjay’s father to leave.
“What was all that about?”, demanded Ria’s father to her.
“I don’t know papa, I really don’t”, she said shaking like a leaf.
“Ria. I need to know what is going on”, her mother demanded.
Ria broke into tears again. Her father hugged her. “I told him papa, I told him not to see me anymore”, she said crying into her father’s arms.
“See whom? What is going on?”, her mother asked getting irritated. Her father motioned to her mother to leave them alone for a bit. Her mother was not too happy but she obliged nevertheless.
“Papa I told him not to talk to me or see me anymore”, she cried again. “Then why did his father say such things?”, he asked.
“I don’t know papa, I really don’t.”
“Ok,,shhh… don’t cry now. Wipe your tears. There, that’s a good girl. Wash your face and let things be. Don’t bother about all this now. Let papa handle it for you, you just do your exams well.”
She nodded and went to her room. She couldn’t study. She lay down and cried herself to sleep.
The next morning she woke up feeling very bitter. How could Sanjay’s father say such horrid things about her? She had a bath and sat down to study but last night’s incident kept flashing in front of her eyes. She started to cry again. She wanted to talk to Sanjay and find out what happened. She tried calling him but every time his mother or father answered she hung up.
She decided she’ll meet him in school during the exams and then she would find out. The exams were starting the next day and she had to concentrate harder than ever.
Ria waited for Sanjay in school the next day, but he never came. She found out from Sunil that Sanjay had left Bangalore and had gone elsewhere. “But what about his exams?”, she asked.
“He is giving it from a private coaching institution”, he replied eager to get back to his books.
She was shocked. She didn’t know what to do. She gave her exam and went home to tell her father the news. He just nodded and asked her to do the rest of her exams well, which she did.
Ria went on to do her engineering from Manipal and then her post-graduation from IIT. She met Mayur through her father’s colleague and had an arranged marriage and started a new life in Mysore. Though she was not much into Mayur initially, she gradually started liking him for his gentleman like behavior. He was the kind of a husband every woman would dream of marrying. She had a wonderful daughter and life was very good. She never saw or heard of Sanjay again except for an occasional email or he’d try chatting with her if she was online but she generally ignored him – until now.