Murali strolled out of the exit with his air bag, looking for her. She was always there for him. There, near the CCD he spotted her. Sneha was coolly sipping her latte. He walked down to her, ‘I am coming to see you, and you are supposed to pick me up. No signs of anticipation and elation in your face. And I see you here with your latte as if you are on a picnic?’ ‘What else do you expect?’, she retorted, ‘I cant be wasting my time in the crowd waiting for you. You wanted me to come here, so that you could save on your auto bill.’ He smiled sheepishly. She finished her drink and together they went to the two-wheeler stand. As she maneuvered her scooty out of the airport he asked her, ‘So what’s the plan?’ ‘Your choice. Where do you wanna go?’ ‘Besant Nagar’ ‘Cool’, she said and speeded off. They rode silently. It was mildly chill morning. Her flowing hair brushed his face. He loved it. Only problem was he sneezed frequently because of it.
They knew each other for the last 8 years. He first met her at the Anna campus during counseling. Both had same marks. She just outranked him by 1 or 2. They were waiting for their turn to come; along with their fathers. It was their fathers who first striked up conversation. Soon they introduced their children to each other. After the counseling, they met once again outside the campus. She had chosen to do her EEE in SRM, while Murali had gone for a Mech in ACCET, Karaikudi. And then they didn’t meet each other for a long time. It was during their 1st yr summer internship that they met each other again. Both found themselves doing their internship with BHEL, Ranipet. It was a pleasant surprise for both of them. Made pleasanter by the fact that they enjoyed each other’s company. They invariably found themselves sharing their lunch times together. Even though it was a minimum 1 hr drive from Ranipet to Chennai (at times it would take up to 2 hrs too), they preferred driving back home in their two wheeler rather than find an accommodation in Ranipet.
Post that internship, they remained in touch. At times visiting each other’s home when Murali was in Chennai. But mostly they chatted, exchanged mails and spoke over phone. They liked each other’s presence. Sometimes they yearned for it too. However all of it was in good faith. Most of all they were good friends with no ‘other’ thoughts underneath. Post engineering, Sneha went on to work with an IT company. With CTS for a year and then she shifted to Infosys. Murali went on do his MBA in Bangalore. It was during this 2 yrs time that they became even closer. Whenever he wanted to vent out his frustrations and pent up feelings, he either pinged her or called her. Regardless of what time it was..in the day..or in the night. All because of the confidence they had in each other. That they will stand by each other come what may. Their parents also understood it. So no eyebrows were raised. While Murali was the shoulder on which Sneha could always lean, she was his favorite punching bag. All her bitchings about her project manager, her work, life in general – he was there to listen to. And she was the de facto travel agent for him in Chennai. If he wanted to plan any trip to Chennai to visit friends or relatives, he asked her to get the tickets ready. Crux being, regardless of the purpose of visit, it never went without them meeting each other. There was not a single love story, not a single career decision of one that the other wasn’t privy to. They understood each other so well. Liked each other so well. And enjoyed and tolerated each other’s presence so well.
Post his MBA, he went on to work in a manufacturing company in Coimbatore. He was always a bit hatke. He didn’t sit for his campus placements. Instead he applied by himself and got recruited. The pay was just decent. But the scope to learn was immense. Despite his MBA, his heart was in engineering. By this time Sneha had hopped over to Infosys. She started out in Bangalore and by the next year moved back to Chennai. On some rare weekends, Sneha used to come down to Coimbatore. She had her aunty there. Of course it wasn’t love for aunty which made her come there. It was to spend some time with Murali. They roamed around, chatted, gossiped and then she went back…satisfied at having spent a day with no worries in the world.
It was 7.15 when they reached the Ashtalakshmi kovil. While Sneha went to ambulate the temple, he waited enjoying the morning breeze and the salted air. Then together they went and sat in the shore. The last oneyear was a tumultuous one for Murali. And she knew it. His mother had become paralyzed. He broke up with someone whom he loved dearly, but couldn’t express himself to her. And he had left his Coimbatore job and joined a company in Gurgaon. Sneha’s story was almost parallel to his. Work wise things were stable. And family was okay too. But she was coming to that marriageable age which starts pricking at the derriere of all the elders in one’s family. Not a day passed without someone speaking or bringing with them a prospective alliance. And not a day passed without her trying to articulate what she expects from marriage. Her words were alien to all around her. Everyone thought her to be too utopian.
‘Who is the next scapegoat forced on you?’, he asked. ‘Well, he is an IT guy working in Satyam. He is based out of Hyderabad.’’OK?’ ‘But he is such a bore. He either speaks of Carnatic music or about his mother’s coffee. Doesn’t have anything else to speak. Don’t know how he could have thought about marriage by himself.’ They sat silent for some time.
‘You know…I used to wonder especially when I was wooing Deepti, that this is what the ideal match is all about. Everything about us seemed picture perfect. And then things started unraveling. The more we knew each other, the more we became wary of each other. And in a quite hurried manner we broke too. Not that I regret it. But thing is, I learnt that we have got to make a relation work. There is nothing like picture perfect. You will always have the glitches.’
‘Hmm, that’s right. But you cant try and make a relation work when the starting itself is very repulsive na.’
‘Agreed. But just don’t go with any preconceived notions about how you want your guy to be. Allow yourself to be surprised by him.’
Sneha then talked about all the shopping that she had been doing over the last one week, the outing she had planned with her batch friends, and the movies that she had watched and was planning to watch. Murali patiently listened to all that she said – ‘umm’ing and ‘aah’ing in just the right amount to make her feel satisfied. This was an old game of theirs. Both knew that he didn’t like all these talks. And yet both were fiercely adamant to have their way. This was her way of speaking whatever she wanted. And this was his way of turning a deaf ear without actually doing it. ‘Often we speak with ourselves. At times we speak loud enough that the other may hear’
By 8.30 it started getting a bit sunny. From there they went to her house in Mogappair. Her house was just behind the DAV school. Murali always looked forward to meeting her dad. He was one cricket aficionado who if given the key, would speak non stop of matches played in the past. And Murali loved it too. And of course the Pesarattu made by Sneha’s mom was out of worldly. The family had a hearty discussion amidst all the ‘suprabhatams’ and the NDTV news in the background. Her mom was almost pleading to Murali, ‘Ivalukku neeyavadhu advice pannu pa. Endha paiyyana paarthaalum pudikala nu solraa.’ He just laughed and replied, ‘Aunty unga sandhoshathakku ava kalyanam panikanumaa..ila avalodeya sandhoshathukku panikanumaa?’ She kuttified him in the head and exclaimed, ‘Poda..neenga rendu perum orey kuttai la oorina mattaigal. Thirathave mudiyaadhu’
At 11, they went to Spencer Plaza. As they were going through the Chetpet bridge; of course Sneha the driver and he the pillion rider; he told her how nice it felt to be with her again after a long time. ‘Ya I know. Even I was looking forward to it’, she said and smiled. They went to their favorite abode – the Landmark and were browsing the books. Sneha casually asked him, ‘Have you ever sight adichufied me?’ ‘So far no. but ok nu sonaa…ipo lendhe route vida aarambikarean’ ‘Poda…you are a gone case’ They laughed. Both of them knew they were testing the waters, but didn’t want to create a turbulence then and there. They were friends above everything.
From there, they went to see Murali’s old tuition teacher in Mehta Nagar. Saroja mam was really surprised to see him. It was a long time since he paid her a visit. Seeing Sneha, she let out the All Knowing smile. ‘Mam…ungaloda unarchiya kattupaduthunga, aaruvaththa adakunga…neenga nenaikara maathiri oru mannum ila, she is my good friend. I have told her a lot about you. Thought I could make her see you in person.’ She smiled benignly at Sneha, ‘Naa yedhaavadhu sonnenaa pa? Ivanaa edhuku oru thiruvilayaadal start panraan?’ Both the ladies laughed heartily even as he gave out a sheepish grin. They chatted for a long time. One happy sad scene for Murali was that Saroja mam was more intent on talking with Sneha than himself. But he was happy too. Such nice, affectionate and ‘no strings attached’ conversation was what Sneha needed the most. What with all the pressure about her marriage and stuff?
As they were heading to Central, he told her ‘You know, I have thought a lot about you. But probably my respect for you has come in the way of me making any move to you.’ ‘Parava ila da. Nee step eduthirundhaa kooda, naa poda dubuku nu solirpen’ ‘Ada naadhaari, naa ivlo seriousaa pesaren. Nee nakkal adikareyaa’, he said and smiled. By now they had reached his train. He was heading to Bangalore. He went and bought few magazines. Then they got themselves a coffee and were enjoying it as they were waiting for the train to start. As she was about to bid good bye she told him, ‘I know you will always be there for me da. Take care.’
“Nenjai nakkinadhu podhum, Aala vidu”, he snorted.
‘Kelambu kelambu, kaathu varattum’
They waved each other good bye. A smile in their lips. A longing in their heart. Their surety in their love for the other was matched only by the doubt that the other person may not be carrying the same feeling. ‘At least I have her as my friend in my life’, he thought. ‘When will he ever understand’, she thought.