She was huffing when she reached the bus shelter. She glanced at the Rado on her wrist as she saw the office bus ride away. She had missed it by less than a minute. And that’s when the bike stopped in front of her. The tall guy riding the bike stopped in front of her and took off his helmet.
“Hi, looks like you missed your bus, eh?”
Radhika was taken aback. “Yes”, she said, “but do I know you?”
“I saw your ID card. I’m Rahul Shukla.”, he said, pointing to the ID card hanging down her neck. “I work for Ad Mania too and I was at the traffic signal on the other side of the road when I saw you sprinting for the bus. I think you could do with a lift. We’re both headed there anyways!”
She scanned him. He had an athletic physique and a warm smile. His slightly overgrown hair was tousled, probably because of the helmet. Brown, puppy dog eyes; and a clean shaven face that reminded her of Ranveer Singh – masculine, yet boyish. She thanked her stars and accepted his offer.
“Radhika Banerjee”, she said, as she got onto the bike. She looked at his fingers from the pillion seat- no rings. That was a good sign. She was fast beginning to develop a crush on him.
“So Radhika, what department are you in?”
I’m in marketing. Recently bagged a three year contract with Huggies. Can you believe it? A grown man writing jingles that he hopes will help sell diapers!”
She laughed, and told him about her client- the toothpaste company whose sales AdMania had helped increase twofold, following which she was honoured by them with an award. They spoke throughout the ride to office, and Radhika knew that her kajal lined eyes and mellifluous voice had made the desired impact on Rahul when at the end of the forty minute ride (which, by the way, felt like it lasted for about seven minutes), he took her number down and promised to give her a call when he was going for lunch that afternoon. The day had started unexpectedly well for both of them. She hummed her favourite song as she walked to her desk. She was good at flirting. Really good.
June’s blackberry beeped. It was Daksh. Finally.
Bby u leave now, ls ul b l8. M almst @ Foody. Wl b der in abt 5 min.
She had been waiting for his message for more than an hour. She was hungry, and almost angry with Daksh for being so late. Nevertheless, she rose from her desk and proceeded towards Foody, the cafeteria at AdMania.
Daksh came over every afternoon for lunch with her from his office which was located in the neighbouring building. Theirs was a perfect college romance that grew into a mature love story, with them even getting to work in close proximity of each other.
As she approached Foody, she spied Daksh waiting for her. Tall, muscular, clean shaven. He looked like that Ricky Bahl guy from a romcom she had seen lately. His longish hair swooped down his forehead and she loved the way she swept it back with his fingers every time it fell in his eyes. He was the epitome of brains and brawns. He hugged her, and they went to their favourite table, the one by the window that overlooked the lake right behind the office building. She had long stopped placing her order at the cafeteria. The guys here knew what she’d eat- one paneer roll, and a glass of her favourite musk melon juice. On the days she was really happy, or really stressed out, she’d ask them for a double chocolate pastry.
Daksh had once asked her why she always had the same food. She always went for what she liked the most, she had replied. Why go for something else when you can have your favourite? Same food, same boyfriend- she knew she would like no other dish better than her paneer roll and musk melon juice; and no other man better than Daksh.
“Same boyfriend”, thought Daksh, with a smirk in his head. He let the topic go. He didn’t want to talk about it.
They had a nice lunch and spoke of their imminent wedding. He showed her pictures of wedding halls he found online. She told him about this place that specialized in customized sherwanis and lehengas and suggested they check it out asap. He nodded his head in agreement. Then they discussed their wedding invitation card. It would read:
June Kejriwal Weds Daksh Kasbekar.
After lunch, they walked hand in hand till they reached June’s office building. He planted a kiss on her head and walked towards his office as she went to her desk.
On his way to his office, Daksh kept thinking what a big joke this kind of wedding planning was. As if the marriage would ever happen.
“Tapasya Ramachandran”, said the beautiful lady at the hospital reception.
“I’m here to check on my mother, Mrs. Mamata Ramachandran. She’s in the Oncology ward. I also want to have a word with Dr.Soni, please. ”
“Yes, Tapasya ji, Dr. Soni is with your mother right now. Please proceed towards her ward, you can meet both of them.”
Tapasya was a wonderful daughter- every mother’s dream baby. She had lost her father to a massive stroke when she was 15, and ever since, she had taken it upon herself to take care of her widowed mother. The void that her father’s demise had left in their lives brought mother and daughter closer to each other, and now they were the best of friends.
This cancer was a bull she intended to take by the horns. She had already lost her father; she couldn’t let go of her mother yet. The sudden news of the disease had shaken Tapasya and turned her from being just a friend to her mother to being a guardian angel. She barely stayed at home as she divided her time between her job and being with her mother in the hospital. Often, she skipped going to office and just worked from home. She had a super supportive manager who kept her updated about work office via IM and e-mail. Rudraneil Srivats was the best boss an employee could wish for. He worked from the client location in Canada, and didn’t fret much about the location she worked from.
Tapasya moved from the receptionist’s desk towards the oncology ward when she bumped into Dr.Soni. He had good news. Her mother was much better today, and he said that it was Tapasya’s care that had brought Mrs.Ramachandran on the road to recovery. A tear escaped her eye. She was overjoyed.
Dr.Soni was an amazing man and a gifted surgeon. He was also her childhood friend. Romil Soni.The guy she knew she’d marry one day since she was five years old. The guy who stood steadfastly beside her through her father’s death. The boy who grew up to be the most handsome man she knew- tall, athletic, charming, with a head full of thick hair he wore a little longer than most men do- like that irresistible conman in Lootera. The guy she loved, until she began working with Rudraneil Srivats.
She was smitten by the way Rudraneil spoke to her over the phone, by the way he handled critical work issues with a degree of calmness and composure she never knew existed. He was a charismatic man, and in many ways, similar to Romil. She had contemplated talking to her mother about her confusion, when one day, out of the blue, the cancer demon stepped into their lives, changing them forever.
She was lost in her thoughts when she realized that Romil had suddenly caught hold of her hand. “You look starved, Tapu! Come let’s grab a bite while your mom is asleep. We’ll come back and meet her in half an hour.”
Tapasya looked at the man who had loved her for close to two decades now. A barrage of questions went through her head. Would she be able to completely ignore the attraction she felt Rudraneil and remain in love with Romil? Would she ever tell Romil about her boss? If so, then when? What would mom say? Most importantly, would mom ever feel well enough to talk to her anymore?
The tears broke through the dam that were her eyes and made their course on her cheeks. She couldn’t think anymore, as she hugged Romil and wept her eyes out. Her exhaustion and lack of sleep overcame her determination as she moved towards the guest room in the hospital and fell into a deep sleep. She became oblivious to her surroundings as Dr. Romil Soni pulled a blanket over her and sat on a couch next to her bed. He pulled out his laptop and composed a mail using his fake e-mail ID. It went something like this:
Hope your mom is doing well.
This mail is regarding the ongoing deal with the campaign strategy for Johnson & Co. They have reverted to our proposition saying they loved your idea and thus wish to go ahead with it.
The design team has begun working on it. We’re fortunate to have a brilliant Creative Associate like you on our team. You’ve done a great job once again. Congratulations.
Rudraneil Srivats, Creative Head, AdMania Media Group.
Romil Soni shut his laptop. It had been a long, hard day. As usual. Mamata Ramachandran walked into the room and sat next to the supine Tapasya, as Romil moved towards the balcony. The cool night breeze felt soothing on his face. He was tired. He thought of the good old days. It felt like a century had passed since then.
Yet, just seven months ago, he was a completely different being. He was just a doctor with a loving girlfriend, Tapasya. They had had a long, happy courtship, and were all set to be married. The wedding was to be a low scale one because Tapasya’s mother had recently been through cancer in its initial stages. It was the kind of cancer that could be completely cured, but Tapasya had not wanted a grand event when clouds of illness were threatening to loom large over her family.
It was a bright morning when she had left for office on that fateful day seven months ago. She had a major seminar to attend that day, where she, along with a colleague, was to deliver a speech and present their company’s achievements to the CEO. Her mother’s final report too was due for that morning, after which she would be declared cancer-free. She had a lot on her mind that morning.
Tapasya Ramachandran and her colleague got into the car to reach the seminar, with Tapasya at the wheel. These two women were known to be not just achievers at AdMania Media Group, but also good friends. Such good friends that when The Solitary Reaper decided to visit them, they were together. Tapasya's thoughts, for a fleeting moment, escaped to her mother's reports- and for that lone second, she wasn’t looking at the road. There was been a crash, and the duo never made it to the seminar. Radhika Banerjee was declared dead when she was brought into the ER, while Tapasya was taken to sugery with severe head injuries.
When she woke up and heard of the death of her dear friend, that too in a crash where she was driving, she fell unconscious. When she woke up again, she was Tapasya no more. She was more than one entity.
The shrinks said the shock was too much for her, and that she had developed Multiple Personality Disorder. The massive guilt she felt at the death of Radhika had manifested itself as the disease. The pent-up stress she had felt at her father’s death and mother’s diagnosis only added to the severity of her condition. Her memory was limited to the morning of the accident and now she knew nothing of her life after the disaster. She was unaware that her mother’s cancer reports that day came clean, and that she had successfully beaten the disease. MPD was a complex syndrome, they said. Shifting her to a mental asylum was the best option according to the shrinks. But Romil disagreed. His love, with Mrs.Ramachandran's 'mamata', would be more than enough to take care of Tapasya.
She now woke up every morning as Radhika Banerjee. Sometime over the course of the day, she imagined she was June Kejriwal. Nobody knew who June was. The shrinks attributed it to be the woman who had lived the love story Tapasya Ramachandran had always wanted- the woman who was engaged to Daksh Kasbekar, the kind of guy who wooed his woman like she wanted Romil to. And then, at the end of the day, she goes back to being Tapasya.
With every different identity that she had, Romil had to adopt a new identity too. The oncologist woke up every morning, and got ready to drive Radhika to the AdMania office. In the afternoons, he donned the garb of Daksh and took June out for lunch and to go over their wedding plans. In the evenings he reached the hospital half an hour before Tapaysa got there, looking for her mother. He recollected the pains he undertook over these months, discussing her condition with the people at AdMania, who agreed to fully support Romil in his quest to stand up for Tapasya. He remembered those e-mails he sent to her and Radhika’s IDs at regular intervals throughout the day, so that she would still think she had a job. He had dedicated his life to Tapasya- to a strict penance.
The sound of mild snoring broke his train of thoughts. He looked towards Mamata Ramchandran who had dozed off while stroking her daughter’s head. He realized it was time for him to sleep too. He woke Mrs. Ramachandran and made her shift to a more comfortable bed. He looked at Tapasya and hoped he was now more than just the romantic that Daksh Kasbekar was. He hoped Tapasya would not have any more complaints with him and his lack of romanticism.
He then drew the curtains and got into his own bed, ready to sleep, ready to wake up next morning as Rahul Shukla.