A friendship between a man and a woman… Can it be accepted like all other friendships or is it always to be doubted and frowned upon?
The characters of this story, Atul and Mrinalini could make the reader ponder over this.
Atul and Mrin, as she was called met when they were in their late twenties and already married. Atul was a very close friend of Mrin’s husband, Varun. Since Atul and Varun were very close since the time they were children, the closeness continued later on also. When Mrin got married to Varun, he told her all about his friend Atul who he was very close to and who had been with him through school and college. They had been inseparable all their lives. In fact by the time she actually met Atul, Mrin had a fairly good idea about him, where he lived, what he did, and what a wonderful and dependable person he was. Therefore when she actually met him, it didn’t seem that she was meeting him for the first time. She already had a favorable impression which got strengthened further when she started interacting with him. He was a pleasant, easy going person with a fantastic sense of humour. Mrin herself being an outgoing person liked him the moment she met him. The feeling was mutual and this paved the way for a long and wonderful friendship.
Atul had always been a regular visitor to Varun’s house and the fact that his friend was now married did not deter him from doing that. He would drop by whenever he felt like it. Many times the three of them would go out together and even holiday together. The more they interacted with each other, the more Mrin and Atul realised that they had a lot in common. They both loved watching movies, going for plays and trying out new dishes in the kitchen. All these were things that Varun absolutely hated. Rather than going for a movie he preferred sitting at home and reading a book which Mrin found to be extremely boring. Initially they both tried to adjust with each other but after a point it became too much of an effort. Varun found it very difficult to sit through a movie and Mrin found it difficult to miss one. So Varun found a solution in Atul. The next time Mrin wanted to go for a movie, he decided to persuade Atul to go with her. A bit taken aback to begin with, Atul agreed to do that and thereafter, it became a routine. Whenever Atul and Mrin wanted to go for a movie or for a play they would make their plans and on the way back pick up food for all of them. Everyone loved this arrangement, Varun could be at home and Mrin could catch up on all the movies and plays.
With time, the fact that Varun was married and settled in the conventional sense started putting a lot of pressure on Atul also to get married. His mother in particular would keep suggesting alliances, setting up meetings with friends having eligible daughters and generally trying hard to make Atul agree. But Atul was simply not interested in getting tied down. No matter how hard his mother tried to convince him, he just wouldn’t give in. Since she couldn’t convince him, she decided to rope in Varun and Mrin in her endeavour and this worked. So therefore now most weekends found the two of them either trying to convince Atul or joining him in his quest for the suitable bride.They would meet even during the week to discuss the various proposals and Atul always liked to get Mrin’s perspective because he felt that since they all led similar kind of lives, she more than his own family could understand what kind of a life partner he wanted. On her part Mrin was equally willing to help him and since she was in between jobs at that time, she could spare a lot of her time to be with him. Varun loved being a part of these discussions but whenever he couldn’t because of his work, the two of them would carry on.
Eventually all the effort paid off and Atul managed to find the girl that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. The girl’s name was Priya and after the first meeting itself, Atul knew that she was the one, though Priya took her own time to agree. Mrin also liked her a lot and in fact both Varun and Mrin felt that she could very easily gel with all of them and make their group complete. Once the two had decided to get married then it was all about hectic preparations, loads of shopping and general running around. As with everything else Atul wanted Varun and Mrin, especially Mrin to actively take part in all this which she happily did. Their spending a lot of time together, apart from getting the shopping done had one more effect. It started to raise people’s eyebrows. People found it strange to see that Mrin was always around helping Atul with his wedding preparations, no matter what, no matter when. They found it strange because they couldn’t understand how her husband could let her spend so much time with another man. They conveniently overlooked the fact they she was in fact helping the other man in his wedding preparations and the only other person who could help was his mother who because of health reasons couldn’t always join them. She may have had a constant presence but hers was not the only presence. So although the three people concerned were not really bothered about it, apparently the rest of the world was. In fact, even Atul’s mother got wind of what people were saying and spoke to her son about it. But after having a candid conversation with him, she understood that the two were great friends just like Varun and Atul were and it was only about one friend being of help to the other one and that’s it. However she told Atul to have a word with Priya as well lest someone succeeded in creating a misunderstanding between them. Though Atul couldn’t see the point he decided to pay heed to his mother’s words and had a heart to heart chat with her. Priya being an open and easy going person herself appreciated the fact that Atul wanted her to know about his friendship with Mrin but at the same time couldn’t see what the big deal was.
Anyways soon the excitement of the wedding took over and this issue was completely forgotten. Atul and Priya got married and left for their honeymoon. Once they were back they were given a huge welcome by Varun and Mrin and all was hunky dory.Now the four of them met regularly and Priya as everyone had thought was a welcome addition to their group.The bond between Mrin and Atul was there for everyone to see but it didn’t really bother anyone. In fact the two of them still made it a point to catch up without their spouses whenever they felt like it. But such is our society that people found it weird to see them together.They would wonder if all was not well in their respective marriages for them to meet each other separately.In fact, some of their so-called friends decided to speak to the spouses as well. Though both Varun and Priya had no problem with the friendship they found it very awkward when other people questioned them. It wasn’t always easy for them to ward off the inquisitive people.
In fact after sometime Varun got so fed up that he decided to take it up with his wife and tell her to stop meeting Atul without him. Of course Mrin found the suggestion completely outrageous and so she refused to listen to him. The situation got really bad with both of them sticking to their guns and unwilling to give in to the other one and so a cold war kind of a situation developed in the house.Though Mrin could somewhat understand where Varun was coming from, she wasn’t willing to give up on her friendship for what she thought was a trivial reason, that of people talking about it. It wasn’t as though her friend was not known to her husband or as though they met secretly. It was none of those things. Also it wasn’t that people did not question her about the friendship but she managed to handle them and put her point across. So she couldn’t understand why he also could not do the same. He just needed to take a stand.And it wasn’t long before Atul and Priya also got to know about this issue.
Being close to both Varun and Mrin, Atul decided to sit down with them and try and find a solution to the problem. Priya also decided to join in.Being a rational person, Atul wanted to know as to what exactly was bothering Varun. Was it the friendship or was it what people were saying? Varun thought about it and realized that it was the people and their inquisitiveness that was his concern. The friendship as such was not a matter of concern at all. He had always been aware of their bond, of their connect. In fact, he had been the one who had encouraged the friendship, to begin with. He just didn’t know how to stop tongues from wagging. At this point Priya intervened and said that if he was sure of himself ,of his relationship with his wife and he was secure in his world then there was no cause for any alarm. He had to learn to stand up to people and face them boldly. He didn’t have to please everyone which in any case was an impossible task.He just had to be happy in his world. On his part Atul also made it clear to everyone that though he cared for Mrin, he wasn’t in love with her and never could be. The love ofhis life was Priya. Mrin was a very good friend, his buddy but no more. And yes this bond was very special, very precious and he could and would do anything to protect it.This discussion had a positive impact and Varun realised that he was being silly and was letting people and their views get to him and to his relationship with Mrin. He apologized to her and they were back to being their normal selves.
Time went by and soon their children came along. The friendship between the four of them continued to flourish and the children also took to each other. The bond between Mrin and Atul was rock solid by then. Mrin knew that he was a friend she could depend on, no matter what. Varun also took comfort in the fact that there was someone around for his family when he was traveling which was quite often. And Priya too valued the bond that she shared with Mrin. In fact, Mrin and Priya also managed to spend a lot of time together. They loved going shopping, meeting for lunches whenever they could and have a great time running their husbands down. Life was good. By now the world around them was also at peace. People had figured that Atul and Mrin were very good friends and would remain so. That was all there was to it.
But life can never be predictable. It has to throw up challenges, make us face trying circumstances and the irony is that all this happens when we are least prepared for it and least expect it. Varun was away on one of his official trips and was expected to be back in two days but that never happened. He was on his way back when his plane crashed and there were no survivors. It was Atul who got to know about it. The news of the crash came up as a notification on his phone. He saw it but wasn’t sure that it was Varun’s flight. With a sinking heart he called up Varun’s office where his worst suspicions were confirmed. In fact the office was trying to reach Mrin but couldn’t get through to her, so some of them were preparing to go to her house to break the news to her. Atul told them to wait and in the meanwhile got in touch with Priya. They both rushed to Varun’s house where they found Mrin sitting with her children, helping them with their school work. The moment she saw them she realised that something was majorly wrong but she could not have imagined even in the worst of her nightmares that they were going to tell her that her world had shattered. She couldn’t believe when she was told that her partner of twenty years had just disappeared. She picked up her phone to call him but obviously the call wouldn’t go through. Meanwhile the office people also reached and then there was no denying the reality.
Mrin was devastated, completely broken. She couldn’t think straight, didn’t know how she would spend the rest of her life. What would happen to their children?Her son was only seventeen and her daughter was only fourteen. She just sat on the sofa with her arms around her children who were too stunned to even utter a word. But there were no tears in her eyes. She was in a state of shock. Nothing was making sense. Atul could not see her like that, his bold , effervescent friend , with a billion dollar smile. How could this have happened to her?? Who would have wanted to wipe off that smile from her face.? He had no answer. It was Priya who decided to take charge. She handled the office people, took the children away, sat them down and explained how they had to be brave and take care of their mother. Then she took her husband aside and in a no nonsense manner asked him to pull himself together and take care of all the formalities. Thereafter, she sat down with Mrin and tried to console her, to make her say something but here she couldn’t succeed. Both husband and wife stayed the night with the family and in fact Priya requested her parents to stay with her own children till the time they had to be with Mrin.
Once the relatives and friends started pouring in, Priya and Atul were running all over the place to settle the various issues. Mrin’s parents were not alive and her only brother lived in Australia. He rushed to be with his sister. Everyone was shocked at this sudden development and their hearts went out to the family. But what was shocking and totally inexplicable was the attitude of Varun’s family. On hearing about the crash , his mother came with his brother but she seemed completely oblivious to the atmosphere in the house. Both the mother and son were more interested in finding out details of Varun and his financial affairs rather than providing some solace to the bereaved family. Atul had always known that Varun had got married to Mrin against his family’s wishes and his mother had never really liked Mrin. As a result there had never been any love lost between them . But this kind of a behaviour was most uncalled for and unforgivable. He was finding it very difficult to be polite with them but Priya impressed upon him the need for him to keep his cool and let all the ceremonies take place peacefully. Meanwhile Priya was really getting worried about Mrin who had not shed a single tear since the day she had heard the news. People were coming and going, they were crying, they were offering their condolences to her but nothing seemed to be affecting her. She was as though in a different world , a world where no one could reach her. But this world merged with the grieving world the day Varun’s remains were brought home. They were told that since Varun had died in a crash, they did not have a body to hand over. There were just a few remains which had been recovered from the crash site and which could be his.This revelation some how managed to register itself with Mrin . When she saw the casket with the remains, she let out a cry like that of a wounded animal and that is when the tears came. And when they did, it was as though a dam had burst and they did not know how to stop.Seeing her like this her children too couldn’t be brave any longer and rushed to be by her side, their tears too running unchecked.
It was heart wrenching to see them like this. It required a lot of courage and forbearance on the part of both Atul and Priya to handle them all. But the husband and wife stuck it out. After all the ceremonies were over, most of their family members left with the exception of Varun’s mother and brother. They were very keen to know all about what Varun had left behind and whether they could get something out of it. Atul was shocked beyond words at their behavior and wanted to give them a piece of his mind. But Priya again held him back and instead suggested that he should have a word with the mother when she was alone. She felt that since he had been Varun’s closest friend and knew his mother well he would be able to handle her.This piece of advice proved to be very useful as Atul in his conversation with her was able to convince her to let Mrin and her children live in peace. He told her that rather than being selfish she should try and be of some help to her son’s family in their hour of need. Whether it was because of the way he spoke or because she herself realised her mistake but the bottom line was that Varun’s mother decided to step back. The very next day both mother and son left and never bothered to come back. It was just as well because now Atul and Priya could help Mrin get on with her life without the shadow of the greedy relatives hanging over them.
Since Mrin was a senior ranking corporate executive herself, the death of her husband did not have an impact in terms of her day to day living. But yes, all the financial affairs with his office had to be sorted out in which Atul helped her a lot. Both the husband and wife, now that they had to go back to their own lives took turns to be with Mrin to help her out of many a sticky situation. Slowly but surely she was trying to get her life back on track. It wasn’t easy but she knew that it had to be done for the sake of her children and then for her own sake too. She realised that she was being able to do it to a very large extent because of the support of Atul and Priya. All her life till that point she had considered Atul to be her friend but the way Priya had risen up to the occasion and been there for her could not be overlooked. Her heart was full of gratitude for both of them.
In fact, now that her son was on the threshold of beginning with his college life. Atul started spending a lot of time with him as well. He would take him out, explore the various options with him, hear him out and advise him, something that his own father would have done. He didn’t want him to feel the lack of any guidance now that his father was no longer alive.
As far as Mrin was concerned, Atul was clear that she should not be left alone to grieve, rather she should be taken out as much as possible. Even if she refused he would not listen to her. Priya could sense that her husband had been deeply affected by what his friend had had to go through. She could see that he wasn’t willing to leave any stone unturned to make Mrin happy. It was so beautiful, this friendship, this bond. She could not help marveling at it.And it wasn’t as though Atul was neglecting any of his duties towards his own family to be with his friend but he was clear about his priorities, an attitude that was admired by all especially by his wife.
The children grew up and started getting married one by one. On all such occasions Mrin was never made to feel alone. During the weddings and after them, Atul and Priya were always by her side.Many times when she was alone and in a thoughtful mood, she would reflect upon her life and at the twists and turns that it had taken.This left her wondering how she would have managed without Atul and Priya. Though Atul had always been there right from the beginning , she now had an immense amount of regard for Priya as well, for her large heartedness, for her unquestioning acceptance of her husband’s friendship with another woman. In fact the acceptance seemed even more unbelievable after the going away of Varun.
Now well past their prime, Atul, Priya and Mrin made, in the eyes of the world an odd threesome but in their own eyes, they were the right threesome. It had been Atul and Mrin who had sowed the seeds of the friendship but the friendship had been nurtured and supported by Priya, so much so that she had become a part of it, an inseparable part. They had all become friends against all odds.
Atul had made her secure in the knowledge that if she was the love of her husband’s life, Mrin was his friend for life…. And that was the way it was destined to be. It was a friendship that had survived against all odds.