Present day, a private island near Hawaii.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning. The sun was just bright enough to make the day neither hot nor cold. The long stretch of sand that marked the coast of the little island was empty expect for a small patch of land which had a landing for a ship. A couple of maintenance engineers fussed about the motors of a beautiful private yacht which was anchored there, while the other members of the crew sat there and enjoyed the beautiful Sunday sunshine.
On the other side of the island, on another beach was Rakesh. At 35, he was one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the world. His engineering skills combined with a thorough knowledge of the industry made him grow on the professional ladder of the company where he was first employed as an assistant engineer. Realizing that his full potential could only be realized only when he became his own boss; he started his own industry with help from people who believed in his potential. Six years later, there he was, spending his summer Sunday in his own private island with his family.
At 30, people could easily mistake him for a 25 year old. His deep business involvements and the stress of managing a company did not affect his features. He still had the boyish charm which won him many a hearts in his college life. The wind rippled through his curly hair which was left in a tussled mess, the way he always liked it. His loose Hawaiian shirt showed through it a lean torso which was always in shape with the help of a strict fitness regime that he never missed.
As he sipped on his orange juice comfortably settled in his easy chair, he gave a loving look and the three figures he saw on the beach. His wife, Reema, a successful lawyer, a caring wife and a devoted mother. His son Ryan, an energetic ten year old who could never get enough of cricket and football. His five year old daughter Deeksha, who showed an unending passion for dance.
As he looked on at them splashing water at each other and laughing in joy, he reminded himself how lucky he was to have such a wonderful family which supported him through thick and thin and made his life meaningful. As he was musing this to himself, Reema came towards him drenched in water, a smile spread across her beautiful moon shaped face. The sunshine made her soft brown skin look more luminent. Her five foot seven inch frame looked leaner than usual with the soft top and pajamas she was wearing.
“Are you sure you don’t want to build sand castles with us?’” she asked, giving him a small peck on the cheek.
“You people carry on; I’ll join you in a bit. I just want to watch you people for a while.” Rakesh remarked looking up at his wife.
“Alright, come join us soon.” Reema said, as she picked up a small shovel and a bucket.
Rakesh watched her as she called out to the kids, who came running to their mother. They huddled up in a small part of the beach and started digging sand for the grand castle. He felt love pouring out of him for his family. Love, the force that binds people, the unfathomable feeling that holds people together.
“What is love?” he thought to himself. As he thought about it, he remembered the first time he asked himself that same question.
September 1993, Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh.
The first days in an engineering college are special to everyone. The transition from a school to a college brings about a mixture of emotions in a person. They grow in knowledge and maturity, simultaneously their heart pines for love and care from another person.
Rakesh was no exception. The first time he saw her, he was convinced that she was the girl for him and nothing in the world could stop him from winning her heart. His heart was already won over by her innocent eyes and beautiful face. Payal was a typical Punjabi girl with a face complexion like that of milk, huge black beautiful eyes which could win over any male in a matter of minutes. Her physique was such that, it drove guys crazy without being obnoxiously thin or voluptuously tempting.
He started going with her in an auto, ignoring the brand new scooter that his dad gifted him on his admission into college. Talking to her for the first time was proved mighty difficult for him. But one lucky break got him going and soon, they started talking more and more. Soon, he was spending an hour extra in campus in the canteen and college ground, talking to Payal, each day, growing fonder of her and more convinced that there could be no other pair in the world with such similar interests and synchronizing personalities and opinions. He just couldn’t wait for the right moment to express his love for her. That day came soon.
24th April 1994
It was Payal’s 19th birthday. Rakesh planned everything in advance, calling her to his flat just for five minutes, so that they could exchange materials for Thermodynamics. He drove out his roommates saying that his parents were visiting him for the evening. He cleaned the messy place and arranged a small corner with all the flowers he could gather in the various gardens of the neighbors. The cake he placed amidst that small forest of flowers. He put the beautifully wrapped present in one corner.
He met her that morning, acting as if he never remembered that it was her birthday. He observed her sulky attitude in the evening with a smile, remembering what he planned ahead. He was filled with nervousness and apprehension about what would transpire and how she would react as her guided her on the steps to his flat.
“So, here we are. Come inside, you want some water or something?” Rakesh asked as they moved into the two bedroom apartment.
“No, I’m fine. You people have a nice place for yourself. It’s wonderful to live on your own isn’t it? You people keep the place so neat” she said, as she looked around the place.
“Yeah, it’s nice to live on your own, to have freedom, to be self dependent… Yeah, it’s wonderful” Rakesh remarked. “Come in here, I have the materials here”, Said Rakesh, as he pointed out to the room where he arranged his little surprise.
He guided Payal into the room and lit the nights. Before she could take in the flowers and the pla card amongst them that read happy birthday, Rakesh grabbed her hand and wished her happy birthday with a smile.
“Wow, you did all this... All this for me?” Payal exclaimed, still looking at the flowers and the cake in between them.
“Well… Yeah… I sort of... Wanted to give you a little surprise. Did you… Did you like it” Rakesh said, with a note of apprehension to his voice.
“You are asking me if I like it? No one has ever done anything like this for me Rakesh, I feel so special. Thank you so much” She remarked as she held his wrist and looked into his eyes.
“I’m… I’m so glad that you like it… Come, let’s cut the cake” He said, as they walked to the table, still holding to each other’s wrists.
The next sixty minutes were memorable, as they cut the cake made each other eat it. They sat down in the balcony, talking about the evening, college and life.
“Do I get to take the present at least now?’ Payal asked, eyeing the package on the table as she prepared to leave.
“Yes, you can. But before you leave, I want to say something Payal. Listen to me first and then take the gift.” Rakesh said, as he felt the butterflies fly in the depths of his stomach.
“Payal, ever since the day I met you for the first time, my beautiful life became more beautiful than it previously was. With you, I feel happier than ever. I feel more complete and happy. I wanted to ask you if you share the same feelings for me. If you do, I’m sure we can spend the rest of our lives together and happy. That gift I gave you has a record of the beautiful memories that we shared till date which I hope will be filled with more beautiful memories in the future. ”
He let go of her hand and looked at her in nervous apprehension, as she remained dead silent for a couple of minutes, her face transacting from shock to realization of what she just heard.
“I… I just can’t tell you anything now…” Payal said, as she ran off with the present in her hand.
29th April 1994
“I can’t do this Rakesh.” Payal said, avoiding his eyes, looking at the ground and toying with the threads on her college bag.
“Okay, tell me the reason why you said no to me. I’ll not bother you again.” Rakesh said, as he let out a sigh.
“Well… I don’t know… I just feel you are not the right person for me… I mean… I still like you and all… But… I don’t know… I just don’t have that feeling that you are the guy for me… I’m not scared that my parents will say anything and all… But…” She said, avoiding his again.
“How do you know that I am not the right person for you without actually knowing how it is being with me?” Rakesh asked, with a note of anger in his voice at the stupid reasons she was giving him.
“I simply don’t feel the love for you… The feeling you get when you are with him… I’m sorry Rakesh… But… I can’t say anymore…” She said as she collected her bag and books and left him there.
Further talks and discussions could yield nothing but a more firm no.
Rakesh sat down thinking, “A girl rejected my love because she didn’t feel it. She gave me up to her gut feeling without giving it a thought.”
That was when he asked himself the first question for the first time.
“Is this love? Is it a gut feeling that assures you that you are with a person with whom you can share relation for a lifetime?”
He assured himself that she’ll realize what she gave up in the due course of time.
A playful shriek from Ryan brought him back into reality.