Amrita and Divya became friends when they were in their mid-fifties. And the reason behind their friendship was their two children who had decided to get married to each other. Amrita’s son Ishaan and Divya’s daughter Sasha had met while in college and soon after had decided to get married.
Since the children were pretty young when they decided to do that both the families had been taken by surprise. The mothers, in particular, were not at all ready for this kind of development in their lives. And as most mothers are prone to do, they both felt that their respective children had been tricked into tying the knot so early in their lives. And obviously, the trickster was the other woman’s child.
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But there wasn’t much that they could do about the situation as the children had made up their minds. They just had to accept it.
Now Ishaan and Sasha had met while studying in the US, but while Sasha was a Delhi girl, Ishaan was a Mumbaikar. Both of them loved their respective cities and were extremely possessive and proud of them. And so were the mothers.
Amrita firmly believed that Delhiites were loud, vulgar and ostentatious. They loved to show off and could be very intrusive and interfering. And of course, they had no social graces or class.
Divya too didn’t have a very high opinion of Mumbaikars. She thought that people from Mumbai were very cold and formal, there was no warmth in their relationships, and everything about them was cut and dry.
So when the children informed the mothers about their choices of life partners, one major objection was related to the city of origin.
So while Amrita did not like the idea of a Delhi girl entering into their family and spoiling their family’s culture, Divya felt that a Bombay boy would not be a caring and loving person and so would not take care of her daughter.
But their objections had no meaning for their children who were hell-bent on marrying each other. They felt that the mothers were being stuck up for no reason. So they informed them that were going to go ahead no matter what and therefore the sooner the mothers accepted their choices, the better it would be for everyone. So the mothers had to give in.
But before things could proceed the families had to meet. And the prelude to the meeting was hilarious. Now though the mothers had agreed to meet, it wasn’t as though they were happy about it. Both were daggers drawn and ready to tear each other apart. In their heads, the strategy was to pick holes in the adversary and then use them to derive conclusions about the offspring and thereby not let the alliance go through.
Though both the mothers were anti each other, there was one difference between the two which was giving sleepless nights to Divya. The thing was that Amrita was this extremely good looking, smart, confident, high flying corporate executive while Divya was a housewife. Though she herself was ok with being a homemaker, she could see that her daughter did not think much about her. Sasha, she could sense was in awe of Amrita and wanted to build her life based on hers. Though that was fine, she did not like the fact that Sasha did not have a very high opinion of her own mother. That made her feel very insecure. It was as though her child was being taken away by someone else and that wasn’t acceptable. Divya wanted to rectify the situation but to do that she needed to collect information about her rival. Her daughter was not willing to tell her much. So Divya decided to use social media for this purpose.
Thus Facebook, Instagram were raided to check out what the other one looked like, what she usually wore, how many friends/ followers she had. Of course, seeing all that added to Divya’s woes. She knew this was a challenging situation, and she needed to do something about it. Since there wasn’t much time left before the meeting she decided to catch the bull by the horns. To begin with, she enlisted the help of a dietician to lose weight and become smart and svelte. Besides, she decided to regularly watch some shows on the BBC to hone her English speaking skills. She did not want to be seen as being lesser than Amrita in any way. And then she also decided to refurbish her wardrobe by going and picking up some nice western outfits. It was as though she was preparing for a battle. Amrita, on the other hand, was not too anxious about the impending meeting. She was confident that the true nature of the people from Delhi would surface during the meeting, and her job would be done. She didn’t think that she needed to put in any effort.
Since the two families lived in different cities, one of them had to travel for the meeting to take place. And in this Divya had to give in as Amrita informed them that she could not travel to Delhi during that time as her work schedule was very tight. Divya did not believe her one bit but couldn’t find any reason to object. So, therefore, they had to travel to Mumbai for the much-awaited meeting between Divya Sharma and Amrita Shah. Of course, Nikhil Sharma and Vipin Shah were also going to be there, but that wasn’t important.
In spite of all the preparation, Divya was very nervous before meeting her rival. She had packed a number of outfits that she could choose from, but on the day she didn’t know what to wear. She was toying between the idea of going western or wearing the tried and tested saree. Nikhil obviously couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about. But then Sasha came to her mother’s rescue and advised her to wear a saree as it looked good on her. And then Sasha said something to her mother, which not only touched Divya’s heart but also gave her the much-needed confidence. She said,’ Mom, always remember that you are my mother and no matter what happens, no one will ever be able to take your place.’
With her confidence in place, Divya accompanied by her husband and daughter went to meet Ishan and his parents. Contrary to her expectations, Amrita turned out to be a pleasant and friendly person with none of the airs and graces that Divya had associated her with. After the initial hesitation, the two got along like a house on fire. Later they were to wonder as to why they had jumped to conclusions about the other without having ever met. During their conversation, they discovered that they had several interests in common, like books and music. But the most important thing that was in common was the love that they had for their children because of which they were ready to do anything for their happiness. So, therefore, putting all their differences aside, they decided to let the children have their way and get married. So for the next couple of days while Divya was in town the two of them spent time in making plans for the wedding and how they were to proceed going forward.
It was obvious that they needed to keep meeting until the wedding took place. And so it was decided that now Amrita would visit Delhi. So fifteen days later she was in the city. Though it was a work-related trip, Divya being the warm-hearted and loving person that she was insisted that Amrita should stay with them. She believed that the more time they spent with each other, the more they would get to know each other, which would be good for the families going forward. So while during the day Amrita was busy at work during the night, the two of them spent a lot of time with each other. Every night after dinner over cups of coffee, the two women made conversations with each other and discovered each other.
Amrita discovered that contrary to her beliefs about people from Delhi, Divya was quite similar to her. She was pleasantly surprised to know that not only did Divya love reading, but she had given a manifestation to her passion by trying to revive the dying habit of reading in people. She had set up libraries cum cafes in and around the area where she lived. These were beautiful places where people over cups of coffee could not only read their favourite books, but they could have discussions about them as well. Divya organised book launches, book promotions also. The cafes had these lovely, cosy corners where people could soak themselves in their books. She had decorated them with beautiful plants and recently had added lip-smacking desserts to the menu. Amrita was impressed and expressed her desire to see the places. Divya promised to take her to one of them the following day, and when Amrita saw the place, she fell in love with it. There and then she decided to help Divya and promote the venture in a big way.
The nightly conversations included a sharing of the stories of their lives.
Divya figured that contrary to her public image of a tough as nails and a powerful woman who was pushy to fault Amrita was a soft and simple person with simple tastes. Amrita shared that she belonged to a middle-class family of Mumbai. From a young age, her parents had impressed upon her and her brother the need to focus on academics and attain excellence. So, therefore, Amrita had studied hard and been a topper all through her school life. That had enabled her to get to one of the best schools in the US from where she had graduated with honours. She had got picked up by a reputed multinational bank, and she had continued to work for it. Along the way, she had met Vipin, and the two of them had decided to get married. Vipin was not a corporate professional like her. He had chosen to be a part of his family business. Their son Ishan had grown up to be a smart, confident young man who after college had decided to join his father.
Divya, too shared the story of her life with her newfound friend. She told her that she belonged to a business family of Delhi where education and especially that of girls was not very important. Early on in life, the parents had made it clear that she and her sister were required to get to college, and that’s it. Since the ultimate objective for them was to get married and be good homemakers, they were encouraged to acquire skills that would help them do that. So they had to learn to cook, to sew, to keep the house and be efficient at that and although she had always loved to read, her parents disapproved of her passion as they considered it to be a waste of time and money. But she had continued to pursue her passion in one way or the other. Fortunately for her, her husband had always supported and encouraged her to pursue it. Had it not been for his contribution, she would not have been able to set up her cafes cum libraries. Amrita was impressed by Nikhil and his support to his wife’s passion. The conversations revealed that Sasha too like her mother, was a voracious reader, and whenever she had the time, she helped out her mother in the cafes.
Thus the bond between the two women which was going to be a life long one became stronger. Between the two of them, they made all the plans for the wedding, and three months later Ishan and Sasha got married to each other. And the mothers were the happiest. Apart from being loving, the mothers were also very sensible and practical. They both imparted sound pieces of advice to their children about their lives going forward. Divya made it clear to her daughter that as parents, she and Nikhil would always be there for her. But she could not keep coming back to them for every little thing. She had to learn to take control and ownership of her life. She also made it clear that as a mother, she would be the last person to intrude or interfere in her life and so she would have to manage it on her own. And since she would have a job as well, she would have to manage that aspect as well. Amrita also similarly advised her son.
So the young couple began their new life on a positive and happy note, they had the love and support of both sets of parents, and they had their love for each other.
Time went by, and Amrita realized that she had the right life partner for her son in Sasha. Like her mother she was a mature and sensible person who never shied away from her responsibility. She never forgot a birthday or an anniversary. Courtesy her, even Ishan had stopped forgetting all the important days. The two had decided to live separately from Ishan’s parents, but their apartment was closeby. So although they had their privacy, they were close enough in case the parents needed them. Sasha made it a point to visit her in-laws as often as possible and to spend a number of their weekends and festivals with them. She had turned out to like the daughter Amrita never had. The two families also met often, and many times all of them would go on vacations.
The bond between Amrita and Divya also continued to get stronger. During one of their conversations, Amrita figured that Divya had this burning desire in her to have some sort of financial independence. Earning her own money was a big thing for her. Since it meant so much to her, Amrita decided to help her. She decided to help her get funding to make her cafe cum library project big. And since she was in the financial sector, once she had put her mind to it, it wasn’t long before she was able to do that. The funding enabled Divya to take her concept to different cities and open up many more such cafes. With time she was able to make a name for her brand. She started getting approached by budding writers to promote their writings. Then different publishing houses, coffee and dessert brands started getting in touch with her and VOILA!! Her venture started making money. She started making her own money which meant the world to her. She couldn’t stop thanking her friend for making this happen.
Life moved on, and by now Ishan and Sasha had been married for three years. They were very happy, and so were the parents. They celebrated their anniversary with all their friends and family. Then in December of that year, life took an unexpected turn for all of them but in particular for Amrita. She was travelling on work and was in New York. The children were on their annual vacation and had gone to Florida. Vipin was the only one left in Mumbai. Amrita wanted to quickly wrap up her trip and rush back as she wanted to be with her husband. One evening she was on her regular daily call with him. She was getting ready to go to bed while he was on his daily morning jog. The thing was that all his life Vipin had been a fitness freak who could never miss his daily fitness regime. Come hail or sunshine he had to go for his regular morning run on the beach unless he was travelling. He was a fit and healthy 55 though as it turned out, it wasn’t the case. Amrita had just finished talking to him when she saw his name flash once again on her phone screen. She couldn’t understand why he would be calling her back. Thinking that he may have forgotten to tell her something, she took the call only to discover that it wasn’t him on the other side. It was a stranger who was calling from his phone. Before she could find out the reason, the stranger informed her that while jogging Vipin had collapsed on the beach and had to be rushed to the hospital.
Amrita was too stunned to react. And she couldn’t believe her ears!! Was someone playing a prank on her? But why would they do it? She asked the stranger if he was speaking the truth. In response, the stranger clicked a picture of Vipin being put into a car to be taken to the hospital. Seeing him in that helpless state was like a punch on the face. She didn’t know what to do other than requesting the stranger to keep her posted. She was clueless about her next course of action. She did not want to alarm the children, but she needed advice, and she needed help.
The only person she could think of at that point was Divya, who immediately advised her to be positive and hope for the best. She assured her that she and Nikhil would take the first flight to Mumbai and be with Vipin. She need not worry. But before they could decide anything else, Amrita again got a call from Vipin’s phone. Once again it was the stranger who called to tell her that unfortunately, Vipin had not been able to make it to the hospital and had passed away in the car. They had still taken him to the hospital where they had declared him brought dead. The cause of death had been a heart attack.
Amrita’s world came crashing down. She couldn’t comprehend as to how someone as fit and healthy as Vipin could just go away like that? There had never been any sign of anything ever been wrong with him. So how come? But of course there were no answers to her questions.
In the meanwhile, Divya called to find out why she had disconnected the phone. Amrita broke the news to her. Divya couldn’t believe her ears. Vipin had always seemed to be the fittest amongst the four of them. They had always joked about how he would outlive all of them. And now this. She could understand what Amrita would be going through. She consoled her and advised her to calm down. Amrita also realized that she needed to organise a few things. For starters, she had to inform Ishan about the tragedy which she promptly did. Ishan was as shocked as she had been. She told him to rush back, and in the meanwhile, she instructed her EA to book her on the first available flight, but as luck would have it, she couldn’t get a booking on any of the flights for the next two days. All the flights were fully booked, and there was no chance of getting a seat on any flight. Amrita couldn’t believe her luck. She had no option but to wait. Finally, she managed to get a ticket. And as if what had happened so far wasn’t enough, the city of New York was hit by a severe snowstorm, as a result of which no flights could tale off or land. This carried on for two days. Amrita was stuck. Her only consolation was that Divya and Nikhil were with Ishan and Sasha and were taking care of all the formalities.
Finally, five days after she had lost her husband, Amrita managed to reach home. Divya, Nikhil, Ishan and Sasha were there at the airport to receive her. Divya and Ishan took her to the hospital. Though on the surface she seemed to be calm and collected, Divya knew that her friend we completely shattered. She held her hand as they entered the mortuary. She left her there for a while and was waiting for her when she stepped out. They reached home. Amrita had no idea about what was happening. Relatives and friends were pouring in, expressing their condolences, but she was like a zombie. She couldn’t believe that Vipin would not just walk into the room, take her in his arms and tell her that all this was just a joke. But nothing of that sort happened. She had to accept that he had gone forever.
Slowly everyone went away, and the family was left to deal with the loss and their life ahead. Divya stayed back to be with them. Sensing that it would not be easy for her friend to cope up with everything on her own, she told Ishan and Sasha to move back and stay with their mother for a while. She did not want her to be alone. They did that and after a week Divya also left to go back home. But she kept calling Amrita every day to check on her and to be just there.
Days went by, time went by, and gradually Amrita started coming to terms with her loss. It had been a big blow, but she understood that nothing could be done about it. She had to accept it and move on. Life started assuming a semblance of order but not for too long. It was as though fate was not yet done with her. It had more in store for her.
One morning while she was at work, their banker called and told her that he had something urgent to discuss with her. Since she was quite busy at that time, she told him to connect with her in the evening. He came in the evening with a bag of papers and bad news. He told her that Vipin had taken a loan against the house in which they were living and as per the agreement it was time to repay it. And for obvious reasons, if they didn’t do that the house would be taken away by the bank. To say that Amrita was shocked would be an understatement. She couldn’t believe what the man was saying. She had been standing while he had been saying all that. She had to sit down, take a deep breath and ask him to repeat what he had told her.
As instructed, he repeated everything and showed her all the papers as well. There was no denying the truth. But Amrita couldn’t understand why Vipin had needed to do that. What financial requirement had made him pledge their home, their haven? Why could he have not pledged some other property? It wasn’t as though they didn’t have any. But obviously, there was no answer to her million questions. The man responsible was not there. So what was she to do/? She asked the bank official to give her some time to figure out the way forward. He left, and Amrita sat next to the window from where the Queen’s Necklace was right in front of her. It had been their favourite part of the house. Both she and Vipin loved sitting there with each other.
The house was their pride and joy. They had bought it when they had been very young. It was a medium-sized apartment which they had done up beautifully. They had to saved, sacrificed their holidays to collect money to buy it. Then later, when the apartment opposite their’s had come up for sale they had bought that as well. And so now they had a large space filled up with beautiful curios, works of art but most of all with lovely memories. They had always said that they would never leave it to go anywhere else. Then why this?? It was inexplicable.
She felt cheated and betrayed. Now it wasn’t that Amrita wasn’t financially savvy. She was. Being that was her job. But as far as their personal savings and investments were concerned she had left it to her husband who had been a wizard with numbers. She had never had to doubt or question his decisions. And most of the times he had kept her in the loop. But now it didn’t seem as though he had always done that. Vipin had retired from active work life three years ago and had left the reins of the business to his son. He had started to dabble in stocks and shares, which was his passion. He had made a lot of money doing that. And then he had invested all the money in a start-up. She was aware that the project hadn’t taken off, and he had needed more money to fund it further. He had told her that he had managed to do it, and now she knew how he had managed!! He had mortgaged their house. She was livid, hurt, disappointed all at the same time. But after a while, her rational side took over, and she decided that she needed to sort out the mess.
It wasn’t as though she didn’t have the money to do that. She could easily liquidate some of her other assets to save the house. But did she want that? She decided to consult Divya. Divya was equally shocked at what Vipin had done. But she too suggested that rather than crying over spilt milk the need of the hour was to be wise and practical. She advised her to talk to Ishan as well. So over the phone, Amrita told her son about what had happened. He came over with Sasha to discuss the situation.
Divya laid down two clear options before them. She told them that if they wanted the house to be saved then Ishan ad Sasha needed to move back and live with Amrita. She told Ishan that in any case the house was too big for Amrita and if she had to shell out a large part of her savings to save it then it would make sense only if they were to move back. Otherwise, she could let the house go, keep her savings for herself and move to a smaller apartment. She couldn’t be making a decision based on emotions alone. Amrita agreed with her and looked at her son for his views. The ball was in his court now. Ishan as Amrita had expected decided there and then that he and Sasha would move back to live with his mother. He wanted to save the house under all circumstances.
And what is more, he told his mother that she need not use up all her savings for that. He would also contribute as it was his house as much as it was hers. So though everyone was upset with Vipin, they realized that they had to accept the situation and move on. Thus the crisis was averted, and the family continued to live in their house.
And then three years later it was time for Amrita to bid adieu to her work life, to her cabin, to her bank. She attained superannuation and was given a warm send-off by her colleagues and juniors. It was a very emotional day for her. She was parting ways with the institution after giving it almost thirty-five years of her life. She had tears in her eyes as she gave her farewell speech. Everyone had such lovely things to say about her. Mohan Lal, her peon who had been ready with her cup of coffee every morning sharp at 9, couldn’t stop raving about her and her kind nature. Everyone had come for the farewell function, Nikhil, Divya, Ishan and Sasha. But Amrita missed Vipin. How she wished he was there too! But alas!!
Life became very different for Amrita from then on. There were no deadlines, no agenda, no targets at all. She could wake up at will and fill up her day with all the things that she had always wanted to do but had been unable to because of her work. She could read as much as she wanted to. She picked up her singing, started following a regular exercise routine and meeting up with friends. Most of all, she didn’t have to get up to catch early morning flights. All her life, she had hated the idea of waking up at the crack of dawn to catch a flight. Now she no longer had to do that. What bliss!!
But the bliss lasted only for a few weeks. Gradually Amrita started missing the routine, the structure of her work life. There was only that much of reading, exercising and singing that she could do. After a while, the lack of something productive in her life started to get to her. The whole day seemed to stretch in front of her, and she didn’t know how to fill it up. She tried being a part of some of the groups in her condo, but since she had never ever shown any interest in them, no one was welcoming. They were ok to have her as a guest, but she clearly couldn’t be a part of them. So Amrita was in a dilemma. Having got sick of everything she decided to go and spend some time with Divya. And while she was there, she discussed her problem with her friend who came up with this bright idea.
She suggested that since Amrita loved to read and also loved what Divya was doing with her libraries, Amrita could also become a part of the venture. She could start something like that in and around where she lived. She, in any case, had been associated with it for a long time, and now she could take it further. Amrita immediately fell for the idea. She marvelled at the way Divya could always come up with a solution to her problems. So thoroughly excited about the project, Amrita went back home. Immediately she started working on the plan, and within two months she had set up the first of her’reading rooms’ as she preferred to call them followed by a second one three months later. The venture had the impact of lending the much-missed structure to her life and letting her follow her passion. As had been in Divya’s case, the idea caught on quickly in Mumbai as well. The reading rooms started doing exceptionally well and also started making money which Amrita decided to give to a local charity. She realised that once again, it was her friend who had stepped in to rescue her. How many times had she done that?? Amrita didn’t have an account. But then that was the sign of a true friend.
It had been a year since Amrita had set up the first ‘reading room’. On a bright sunny day she was sitting in the corner of one of them. She was reading a book by her favourite author. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a car stop and then she saw this lady dressed in a beautiful saree step out. She walked in and heads turned. She had a smile on her face [her trademark] and elegance in her demeanour. Yes, she was older now, there was a sprinkling of grey in her hair, but she was still the same. She was still the same friend. The same soul mate, the same Divya…… her perfect friend!!