A short by Ram Anand. 2009.
It started just like any other day for Shawn, but it did not take him very long to actually realize that the coming days in his life will never, ever be quite the same again. “Look there, cha,” one of his friends pointed out with great urgency and excitement. Shawn knew right away what his friend was pointing towards. A pretty, admirable young lady. That is when Shawn realized that his life is, forever, about to change. The old Shawn could have had the pleasure of sharing his friend’s enthusiasm about the girl, well, he still can share that pleasure, but he knew, three months from now, all of that will change. The old Shawn could afford to tease the girl, and even flirt with her, but the Shawn that will emerge three months from now- can’t do the same. Because three months from now, Shawn is getting married. A new chapter in his life, Shawn thought.
Few of his friends are thinking that he is rushing the prospect of this marriage, moreover, that isn’t actually a love marriage. Shawn hasn’t found the kind of love some people have described to him. If love is grabbing any pretty girl that reacts to your advances or shares a bed space with you, then Shawn has found plenty of love. If love is about complete uncertainty, the willingness to totally commit, and loving suffering itself, Shawn hasn’t found any of that. But he can find that love with his new wife. But, will that love appear once he steps into his marriage vow? He still has 90 days left to make that love appear between him and his would-be, but how will he make it happen? After much hesitancy, he rang her a call. Both of them stuttered in the line, as the shyness crept into both of them. No matter how many girls Shawn has made advances with in the past, advancing on a woman he is going to marry who is actually a woman he never really had a relationship with in the past is always going to be hard work.
He finally muttered some courage. Lying back on his bed like a lazy lover, he asked over the line- “Can you come over here?”- As if she is his girlfriend and he misses her so much. “Why?” came back the question. The only thing Priya Samuel- which is her name, could think of is total unfairness. She was infuriated by that question, and it took her some time to actually realize that the young man on the line opposite this doesn’t know anything about the justification she is thinking about. She knew why he was asking her to come over- so that he could flirt and spend some genuine romantic time with her before finally tying the knot. “Why? Well, simply, cannot izit?” he asked the metaphorical question. The lazy, hesitative conversation continued until Priya decided that it is high time she tells him why she can’t come over. “I don’t want to sound rude, but I am going to stay with you and at the city you are working in once we are married. I have 90 days left to marry you, but you must also think, I only have 90 days left to be my parents’ daughter. I’d rather spend these 90 days with my parents, and then you can have a lifetime trying to know me or trying to flirt with me,” she said. “Then if I come over there?” he asked. “Well, that sounds fine,” she said. He is ready to go and enter a phase in his life- being with a genuine life partner. And little does he know that after this trip- nothing in his life would ever be the same again.
He was initially contemplating on taking a bus, but later decided that driving his car there would be a better idea, that he would have the opportunity on not depending on others to bring him out of the house. His parents think it is utterly ridiculous for him to head to the bride’s house before the marriage and suggested it be done the other way around- by the bride coming to his place, or even, both coming to his parents’ residence. None of this actually mattered much to him- where or how, all he wants is to spend some quality time with his would-be. But she has a justified reason, so he is ready to make that discriminative ‘sacrifice’ by going to her place. He is driving his place to one of the highest lands in Malaysia- Cameron Highlands- and suddenly everything slowed down incredibly. He is a man with a great sense of direction- he always discovers his destination even with only a map on his hands, but suddenly he felt an urge he never ever felt before- an urge to get lost, to lose track, to simply be immersed in the present and not to worry about his destination because it will come when it has to come. He never felt such an urge inside him before. He had spent almost his entire life in metropolitan cities, where life is always about fast. There is always something to run after, something sought after, something that makes life quick yet predictable. But this is different, sure, he went on vacations before, on holidays before, but nothing was anything near this feeling. This is when a phrase written by Henry Miller- a phrase he never understood- made perfect sense- It is better to visit an unknown church that no one else has ever heard of that to go to Rome and feel obliged to visit the Sistine Chapel with 200,000 visitors bellowing every year. Shawn stopped driving and enjoyed the cold breeze. He went out of his car, took a cigarette and started puffing it over, enjoying the quiet, empty scenery in front of him. For the naked eye, it is scenery that is empty, but not quite the same who understand that it such vast emptiness- such a void, that allows us the space to reflect upon ourselves.
It took him a whole day to finally arrive at Priya’s house. “Where have you been?” she asked with a chagrin, clearly she has been worrying or has been worried by the calls of Shawn’s parents. The only thing he can do to reply to her is with a smile. What can he say? “I can’t even reach your phone. Have you got lost?” she asked. Yes, exactly the question that would save him. He nodded his head. His in-laws didn’t probe further- how could they probe into a person who just got lost, and is looking silent and dull, probably extremely tired from being lost? If he were to tell the real answer- which even he don’t understand, they would think he is insane, it would be better to say he had lost- only the fraction of difference in truth is that he has got lost on purpose. He is not dull because of being lost in this journey; he was rather dull because he feels he has been lost in his entire life- always following what was laid down in front for him- as if his life has been scripted. Nothing out of the ordinary has actually happened in his life, he has been extremely insignificant, but what can he do to change that? Probably nothing.
“Hi,” Priya said as she came to his room a few hours later, once the tense of him being lost has finally cooled down. “Hi,” he replied slowly. He can’t help but to stare continuously at her, after all, she is the one he is going to spend the rest of his life with. They starred at each other silently. “So, what is it?” she asked. “What?” he asked back. “Well, you must have a reason why you wanted to spend time with me before marriage, isn’t it?” she asked. “Will you ask reasons for everything?” he asked something that crossed his mind immediately. “Oh, that’s why you are here then? To know about my traits isn’t that so? What kind of questions I will bug you with after marriage, what makes me angry, on what matters I’m easily fooled, like that?” she asked. Shawn sighed as he was unable to answer her question. He sighed and looked disillusioned. He smiled at her instead, and gestured that he simply doesn’t know a certain why. She smiled back at him and left the room, leaving him alone for the moment. There is a huge void of awkwardness between them, given the fact that Priya doesn’t actually trust Shawn to any good level having known about his flirting nature in the past. She is just happy to marry him, or she is content to marry him would be a better way to describe it. Because she had convinced herself and has been convinced by others that this is good as things could get for her- her parents have always said that he would like to choose her groom, and in that case, she said, she would like a man who comes from a city, a man who is relatively young, matured and earns good money, above all a socially viable man. Given the fact that Shawn is good looking, earning good money, drives a good car, and all, he is certainly as good as she could ask for- except for his grey past, but nobody’s perfect, are they?
Shawn and Priya went out on an unofficial date the very next morning. She showed him around the place (which doesn’t have much to rave or travel about except for beautiful, silent sceneries). Priya tried to guide Shawn to a town nearby, where there is some people going around. Having grown up there, she had grown tired of the silent void of scenery around her house. But Shawn is different. Having grown up with people all around him, busy cities, fancy cars, flirting, always something to live up to, he suddenly has fallen in love with this silent void. He is able to see his whole life panned out in front of him every time he stares into those high hills. It was as if time has stopped, all those pressure has been relieved, and he can just sit and review his life all these years. It’s a fearful thing to do as much as Shawn feels the urge to do it. What if he regrets who he is and what he is doing? Isn’t this too late to change? So, he did not give in to those desires and decided he would follow Priya’s guidance to the town nearby. Both of them are estranged with their worries- her worry as to when she will finally get to actively involved in a corporate world, and his uncertainty over his own life. They stopped near a shop and started walking around, slowly stroking about a conversation with each other, until a defining moment came.
Finally, the conversation between Priya and him became less tense than it was before. They finally managed to break the barrier of hidden desires and uncertainty between them. And it all came down to Shawn’s flirting nature to break that barrier. A woman crossed nearby, one of the very few gorgeous looking women in that town and Shawn threw a strong, enchanting look towards her. Priya smiled at what he did. “I can’t keep doing this,” she snapped. “What?” he asked back. “I have to ask you something,” she said. “Go ahead,” he urged. “Will you keep doing this even after marriage? You know, that kind of looks, flirting, trying to seduce other girls, will you?” she asked a straightforward question, but not as hot as the one she is about to ask next. “And then, did you really get lost yesterday and you just found somebody that made you delayed on the way?” He starred at her with utter amazement. She gestured that she wants him to answer this question. “I can understand you know. Maybe you were too paranoid as to how life would be caged after marriage so you wanted your last taste of the cherry maybe,” she continued. “No, no at all,” he said slowly. “I did get lost,” he continued. “Need I stop? I mean, after marriage?” he asked. “What, sleeping with other woman? I guess it makes perfect sense if I say you can’t,” she said. “What do you think I am? Why would I do something like that? I was talking about, you know, socializing, like that,” he replied. “How much difference is there between those two? It’s all about your intentions. If I’m just one of the many girls you met in your life whereas I married you and the others didn’t, then that’s a problem. I need you to admit if that’s the case,” she said. “No, not at all, look, I know what a marriage is all about. If I was thinking of it that way, I wouldn’t have come here 90 days before the marriage. I want us to know and understand each other,” he explained. She nodded. He turned away for a glance again as another woman entered a small Chinese sundry shop near the place where Shawn and Priya have been sitting. “You have been with any?” Priya continued to ask very frank questions. “What do you mean?” he asked back. “I mean, Chinese girls,” she said. “Not actually, but I have a few friends. Wait, how many girlfriends you think I had in my life?” he asked this time, desperate to clear the air of uncertainty. “I don’t know, you tell me,” she said. “Okay, honestly, three, and I slept with two of them, that’s all there was, you are exaggerating me. I’m social but I’m not a playboy,” he stressed. Priya, true to herself, was relieved to hear that. She has heard all kind of stories about him but now she has heard it from the person himself. Shawn, elsewhere, is disturbed. He wants to ask her back, about how many guys she has slept with or had a relationship with in the past? But how will he ask such a question? The pretty, mature-looking Chinese came out of the shop she entered just now and saw Shawn starring at her, not with his usual enchanting manner, but in a much more subtle way. She smiled at him from a distance and suddenly Shawn felt as if he had accomplished something important. “How about you?” he asked, muttering the courage. She starred at him for a while. “What do you think?” she asked. “Do you always answer a question with a question?” he asked. Both of them laughed. “Now you know my behavioral traits,” she said. The topic faded away without the answer, and Shawn was left thinking about the Chinese girl he just saw.
For the next few days, Shawn repeatedly headed to that town and each day, found an excuse to enter the Chinese sundry shop, and ironically, he was seeing the same Chinese girl everyday from then on. She always came to that shop, and there were no prizes for guessing that she is the shop owner’s daughter. She comes briefly in the morning every day and leaves soon, and Shawn never fails to see her in that little time she spends there. He was left curious at to why he is finding it so necessary to meet that girl everyday and yet till now, he has not spoken a single word with her. Five days passed by, and he has begun think of that Chinese girl more than his own fiancée.
He finally decided to talk to her one day, and he went close to her, and that is as far as he got. To his own disbelief, he was unable to strike a conversation, as he hesitated time and again and virtually froze every time there was an opportunity. His absorbing non-verbal relationship with this young woman intrigued him like nothing other, and it was not long before he realized what has been happening all along. He has haplessly fallen in love with her. He had girlfriends in his life, girlfriends whom he liked but didn’t love. He hoped to find that love which has haunted most of his friends when he is with his fiancée, it certainly did, but not with his fiancée, with some other girl. He starred into those open hills again and realized he is facing a huge crisis in his life. On one hand, he amicably agreed to marry a woman he did not love but somehow thought he can fall in love with that woman when he wants to. Little did he realize that, at most times, love chooses the person rather than the other way around? On the other hand, love has struck him with a Chinese woman he had never spoke with, somebody whose name he just found out, but she in return has no idea who he is. He has to decide now, whether to ignore his new found love and keep committed to his future marriage, or try his luck with this woman. He knows the latter option will put him in brewing trouble, so would it be worth the risk? Probably that is what the void of space in these hills was trying to reflect to him. All his life, he has always followed what has been laid down to him, as if his life has been scripted. But this is an opportunity to do something unpredictable with his life. Nothing that is valuable in life comes without risks. He has been playing it safe all his life, and probably it’s about time he approaches life differently than there is. But he is not prepared to risk his marriage possibility with a beautiful woman like Priya because of something he is not sure of. Anna (the Chinese girl’s name) could have a boyfriend, could even be married by a matter of fact. How could he risk a secured relationship with Priya for all that? And so it happened that in the coming days, Shawn begun making advances on the woman he is in love with, unbeknownst to Priya and her family. Finally he started talking with Anna, and slowly made advances on her.
It took him another week to know about her life and the details surrounding it. Good news is that she is single, and the bad news is that she is 30 years old, which makes her five years his senior. Further bad news, she is Chinese (his parents are going to stand as an obstacle, and from what he knew about her family, her parents too will stand as an obstacle). Anna is a woman of composure. She was born to a mediocre sundry shop owner, and had to work hard to earn her education. She has harvested a huge dream of becoming a scientist in the US, and had slowly saved money which puts her now within weeks of a flight to the States. She is completely devoted to achieving her goal, which is not very far away. That apparently makes her a much more assured and driven personality compared to may other women Shawn met in his life, somebody who knows exactly what they want. Each and every second he spent with her, Shawn was completely transformed and was living the moment, and even though deep inside he knew that he was inviting trouble, he preferred not to think about how this chapter of his life will end, keeping it mum from Priya. At times, it makes him feel extremely guilt-ridden to have been hiding it from Priya, but he is not completely assured about her relationship with Anna either. He is consumed with terror every time he thinks of how much trouble he has to face if he wants to marry Anna- his parents, her parents, and also Priya’s family. Is he ready to take on such an obstacle? Even if he wants to, he needs to know whether Anna loves him as much he loves her.
“I love you,” he said, finally breaking the iceberg. She starred at him strongly. She tried to say something a couple of times but hesitated. She was speechless. “But, Shawn, you are…,” she said. “Engaged, I know, but I love you,” he said. “But you have a fiancée,” she said. “Does that make me not qualified to love you?” he asked. “Do you have any idea of what you are saying?” she asked. “Do you like me?” he walked close to her and asked. “Would liking you be enough?” she asked. “Yes, surely,” a faint, unassuming smile appeared on his face. She sighed. “What do you expect me to tell you? Do you have any idea how many problems we will face?” she asked. “Yes, I know, if you just stand by me, we can overcome all of them,” he said back, convincing her all the way. She finally agreed after much resentment. From there begun a stunning journey that completely changed Shawn’s perception of life. He was exceptionally proud of himself that he was finally listening to his heart’s desire rather than following the path laid down in front of him mechanically like he did in the past. But, the trouble of keeping Priya in the dark regarding this issue is beginning to take a toll on him, especially now, that he has convinced Anna and it’s time he openly tells everybody involved that he wants to marry Anna and not Priya. So he informed the most important person he had to inform about this issue- Priya. A huge silence beckoned when he finally told the matter to Priya. Priya was dull and silent. “Is this in any way at all my fault? I asked you clearly that day, didn’t I? Why did you have to do like this, you fooled me around, as if I’m nothing?” she asked furiously. Her anger is justified and her words are completely justified. This is when Shawn realized how big a fool he has been in his life, or more precisely, how big a coward he has been. He has certainly ignored Priya based on the fear that he may lose her for something that he is not guaranteed of- which is his relationship with Anna. Now he understood the need to take some risks in order to earn something that he desires. There was no room for apologies for his own cowardice, so he decided to stay quiet. But Priya understood the complexity of the situation, and she too, stayed quiet and did not press the issue on further. On a wide enough spectrum, there are three individuals- Shawn, Anna, and Priya, all, in their own way, have huge question marks hanging over themselves, whether they are on the right path to earn the life they desire. As these three individuals each are trying to sort out conflictions within their self, the society around them have begun its rebel to a story which is out of ordinary, and out of routine.
Shawn’s parents came down immediately to the town as if their lives depended on it, once he strongly rejected their calls for him to go back to his home. Priya’s parents begun blaming Shawn’s parents that they have ‘hidden’ the fact that he is a womanizer. And before they even knew it, Shawn and Anna were embroiled in a battle to make their relationship happen (add Anna’s father into the mix). Anna’s trouble is simple, she never knew there was a battle in hand, Shawn had already warned her, but for it to come this soon, she was completely unprepared. As for Shawn, he stepped with a notion that he is finally swimming against the tide, something that he has not done in many, many years in his life and finally is cherishing the prospect that, he is fighting for something he desires rather than making compromises the way he had done before. And for Priya, who is witnessing this whole spectacle as a mere spectator from sidelines, did find a brand new insight to her own life. Is the falling apart of this supposed marriage a letdown, or is it a blessing in disguise, she asked herself. She has been no different from Shawn, being a person who has always followed what was laid out in front of her. She knew on the core, she and Shawn have been living the same lifestyle- a predictable, scripted lifestyle. Shawn and Anna’s relationship is not a result of Shawn being a womanizer, even if he does have that reputation from the past, and Priya knows that more than anything else. Such an unpredictable tale was thrown in the mix probably to give everyone a wake up call. But what should she do now? Vow that she would not be married for another five years?
Days passed by as Shawn and Anna withstood every single waves that came in an effort to destroy their relationship. Shawn was proud and fulfilled at his new found strength to swim against the tide, while Anna, depending on his bravery, has quietly come through that phase as well. But the story is different for Priya. What Priya saw in this episode is not only a battle for an odd relationship, but also a battle to preserve the heart’s instinct. She grew up to be taught that the brain is a better ruler than the heart, and she certainly feels a fool for believing that. Living by what the mind says always means following a set of logic that the society has provided for her, and that living did not give her the courage that she now sees in Shawn.
Finally, the couple triumphed against all the odds. All the social, religious and age differences were put behind and they managed to make their relationship work at all ends. Shawn felt proud of himself for managing to do it. That would have been a great end for that story, but don’t all of us tend to forget the more important part of life more times than not? The espisode of Shawn battling for his relationship with Anna was certainly overlooked, placed into a simple paragraph, because the larger picture is always different.
All three of them- Shawn, Priya and Anna, sat on a bench on an airport, starring at the empty horizon. They looked at each other. A faint smile appeared in each of their faces. It’s not the best ending, but as they say, every ending is a beginning. This is merely just a beginning. “Thank you,” Anna landed Shawn a warm kiss on his cheek. He felt even more fulfilled. “No, thank you for showing me there’s more to life than I thought,” he said. “I have to thank you guys then for this,” Priya said. Shawn realized for the first time, what it is like to fall completely in love and fight for that love, and now, he realized that love never should be an issue that is forced upon. He is allowing Anna to pursue her dreams- a dream she has come so close yet so far to achieve, thanks to this relationship. Anna taking that plane to US is not an end for their love story- merely a beginning. Anna loves her dream, and she has worked for years and deserves to get there. Anna is Shawn’s dream, she made him see life a different way, and like any other man, he understood that he needs to make a journey in order to achieve his dreams, and what he had done in the past month is merely a process of setting himself in the right track towards the dream. The journey has just begun for him. Anna understood that at the brink of achieving any dream, a conflict between love and dream often come across, but neither are elements that should be sacrificed. Shawn is not ‘sacrificing’ his love for Anna, he is just allowing her to fulfill her first love so that the next time around, she would love him as much as he loves her. For Priya, she finally understood the value of love. For once, she decided, she would follow her heart, and has taken matters of marriage into her own hands. Priya realized that she too had a dream that is rotting inside her, and will now set a quest to fulfill it, no matter how ridiculous it sounds- that’s why they are called dreams. As for love, waiting for love is an experience of its own. Shawn and Priya were both walking down a lane set up for them with all predictability, until one’s heart decided to love unconditionally and they were opened up to world of transforming love and dreams. They saw more about life. They saw the larger picture, the other side that few people realize or acknowledge about, they saw the door beyond.