Best Gift Of Love

“Let’s get married” I told him, blankly. It was almost like an order. But the sentence held deeper meaning for us.

He stood there, blinking to himself. He could not meet my eyes. The cool September winds of Ooty blew across his face. His hair swiveled in it and he looked all the more handsome. I admired him even after letting out a sentence that was too difficult for him to bear. He knew he had to face the reality sooner or later. But he was not prepared to answer. I held his hand and entwined my fingers with his. I led him to the stone bench and made him sit.

“Can we talk about something else Pragya?” He asked me without even a slightest concern for what was going on.

“No. We have to discuss about this Rishabh. You just can’t slip away like that. You have to answer me.”

“But I am vulnerable. I can’t do this. I don’t want to spoil your life Pragya. I beg you to leave me. You can’t put yourself in such a situation. Please try to understand.” He sounded annoyed. But an abundant amount of pain was visible in those words. A pain that was taking him away from me. I wanted to eradicate that pain. I wanted to bridge the gap between us that had been created by one fateful day in the past.

“But I love you…” my voice broke and I started crying. I felt too sensitive beyond words. I needed him badly. But here he was slowly breaking away from me.

The winds got cooler and I shivered. My hands and feet were turning numb. I felt a reassuring hand on my shoulder. The next moment, he pulled me closer. He held me in a tight embrace. I felt the warmness radiating from his body. I buried my face deeper into his chest and let my tears flow freely.

“Pragya, I want you to lead a happy life. If you choose to live with me, then you have to undergo all the sufferings.”

“I am ready to undergo anything for you Rishabh. And I promise you that we won’t suffer. I will keep you happy always. We will have a beautiful life together. You won’t have any negative thoughts if I am with you.”

Immediately he pulled away from me. He stood up and spoke, “The situation is getting out of hand. I have no other way Pragya. I have to leave you and move away.”

His words resonated inside my heart. I could literally hear the sound of my heart breaking.

“But Rishabh, I love you. I can’t leave you like this. I need you to share your life with me…”

He cut me short, “I love you too Pragya. But we are not meant to be together. I am so sorry. This is over. Please move on with your life and be happy always. Never think about me. You would lead a life that is thousand times better than your life with me. Do you understand?” He almost yelled at me.

“I..I..Please…” I stuttered. But he stormed off leaving me all alone.

The rains came down at that moment. My tears got engulfed in those raindrops.

“This is not my Rishabh…” I thought. I stood up and walked back home with heaviness in my heart. I began to reminisce back to those days when I fell in love with Rishabh, two years ago.

*****

“Hey, meet my friend Rishabh. He has joined as the new Geography teacher” said Anil, one of my colleagues in Breeks Memorial School.

I looked up from my desk to see who it was. My heart skipped a beat for a second. I saw the most handsome looking man ever. He was fair and tall. His hair was neatly combed and his face held a pair of dimples when he smiled. The manliness which he emitted was beyond description. I was so much awestruck that I did not notice his hand which he had extended for a shake. I came back to senses and gently shook his hand. My god! His touch sent a numerous vibrations throughout me. I withdrew my hand rather quickly and put my face down in shy. Anil was watching all my crazy expressions. He cleared his throat and spoke, “And this is Pragya. Mind her. She might bog you down with her Mathematics”. Rishabh chuckled. I glared at Anil and gave a warm smile to Rishabh. He smiled back and seated himself opposite to me.

“Pragya..don’t get distracted. Concentrate on your work! Concentrateeee!!!!” I warned myself. But I could not take my eyes off him. I felt like being electrocuted by a high voltage electrical signal. I slowly watched his mannerism. He had quickly made friends with two other male colleagues of mine. He began chattering with them. Soon, his exuberant nature got over him. He made friends even with a few female colleagues, excluding me. I don’t know whether he felt the same way as I felt for him. But he avoided my gaze most of the time. He was glancing at me stealthily. I kept my face buried inside the problematic Maths book. Occasionally, I looked up to have a glimpse of him. It was at that time I realized that he was already watching me. We exchanged shy smiles and got back to work.

As days progressed, I developed a huge crush on him. I had never been attracted to any other male staff before. But Rishabh was quite different. He knew to handle people well. He was loving to the students and even got them chocolates. It was like the entire Ooty vibrated with his euphoric attitude. But I noticed that he changed according to the seasons. When it was raining, he was in his gloomy self, penning some poems on nature. When it was sunny, he loitered around the campus in a lighthearted manner, greeting anyone who came across him. Something about him was making me mysteriously attracted to him. Or maybe it was my marriageable age that was creating some emotional disturbances within me.

It was during the Teacher’s Day celebrations that I had a real conversation with him. I had worn my favorite turquoise colored saree that obliged people to have a second look at me. But I wanted Rishabh to notice me.

“Hello Pragya madam. Happy Teacher’s Day!!!” Rishabh’s ebullient voice echoed through the staff room. There was nobody else other than us. I felt elated at the thought of being alone with him.

“Wish you the same Rishabh sir!!” I broke into a smile and replied him.

“Well…you look like India.”

“What?” I could not register his words.

“Geographically speaking, India is the only country which looks beautiful in the world map. So, that means you look like India. Beautiful in the entire staff room.”

For a moment, I was debating whether he was flattering me or genuinely speaking his heart out. But Rishabh was too good to flatter someone.

“Thank you Rishabh. And you are like Linear Algebra.”

“What? Is this some kind of joke Pragya?” Now it was his turn to get amused at me.

“Mathematically speaking, your handsomeness cannot be spanned by a finite basis of vectors.”

“Whaaaat??? Are you trying a mathematical pick-up line?” He twisted his eyebrows. The next moment, we burst out laughing. We connected intellectually too.

By the end of the day, we exchanged our numbers and began our beautiful journey of love.

*****

“Pragya…I can’t jump over the compound wall. It’s too slippery. The rains have made it worse. And I feel like puking. I have drove all the way from Ketti to Love dale. The roads are not smooth and in addition to that, I have this queer indigestion which gives me the creeps. And you are staying in a two storeyed villa which has a rather high compound wall….” Rishabh was roaring over the phone.

“Hahahahaha…” I laughed at his pitiable condition.

“There is nothing to laugh. You come down.”

“I never asked you to jump over the compound wall Rishabh. You thought you could act like Romeo, expecting me to be Juliet?” The words came out of my mouth in a flow. I hit myself for letting them out. I never wanted Rishabh to know about my feelings.

“What did you say Pragya? I can’t believe…”

“Stop it Rishabh! I am coming down.” Saying so, I cut the call and climbed down the stairs quietly, not wanting to wake up my parents.

I met Rishabh outside the main gate. He was hiding something behind his back.

“What is it Rishabh? Show me.” I demanded.

“Wait for two minutes.”

I could not figure out what he was up to. I loved Rishabh’s childishness at times.

“3..2..1…Happy Birthday Pragya!!!” To my surprise, he was kneeling down with a bunch of Kurinji flowers (Strobilanthes kunthiana) in his hand.

“Th..thank you soooo much Rishabh” I was overwhelmed by his act.

“So is that a yes?”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you understand what I mean?”

I squinted my eyebrows in confusion. Though I had a faint idea of what he was hinting at, I did not want him to know that.

“I love you Pragya.” Those magical words felt as honey to my ears. His voice reverberated through the chill December night. I wanted to squeal in joy. But all I could do was smile at him shyly.

“You are smiling? Do you love me too?”

There was no looking back. I have to confess to him. But I was too reticent to admit my feelings. I slowly opened my mouth to tell those three beautiful words.

“I…”

“Say soon Pragya. I am dying to hear it from you.”

I cupped my hands across my face. Then, I ran over to him. I kissed him on his cheek and tried to escape from him. But he caught hold of my hands.

“Tell it Pragya. Please.”

I turned around. I closed my eyes and said, “I love you.”

“Thats cheating. Don’t tease me like this.  Look at my eyes and tell.”

I opened my eyes slowly. I locked it with his. For a moment, I got lost in my own thoughts. Rishabh shook me gently.

“I love you Rishabh.”

“This is enough. I will take care of you very well Pragya. I am yours and you are mine. We will remain inseperable” he said, cupping my cheeks with his hand. Slowly he came over and placed a sweet kiss on my forehead. I didn’t want to let him go. But I was afraid that my parents would wake up.

“Bye Rishabh. I need to go inside. Let’s meet tomorrow in school.”

“Happy Birthday once again. I need Diary Milk Silk chocolate tomorrow. I think you remember.”

I nodded yes. He then let me go. I blew a kiss to him and entered my house. I had the best sleep that night.

*****

He looked tensed. My heart wrenched to see him like that. Something was bothering him. He had taken a leave to school on that particular day. He had entered quietly inside the restaurant in which we had planned to meet. He failed to notice me properly. I was wearing his favorite pink saree which he had presented to me. He did not compliment me and he looked away from me. There was a deep sadness in his eyes. He had a peculiar file in his hand.

“What is in that file Rishabh?” I asked him, finally breaking the silence between us.

But he did not answer me. He seemed to be in some other world

“Hey geographer, what happened?” I tried to cheer him up.

But still he remained quiet. The waiter brought our coffee and placed it on the table. I held Rishabh’s hand. But he pulled away. My eyes filled up with tears instantly. My Rishabh never had behaved like this before. Something was bothering him to the core.

“Rishabh, please look at me. Whats your problem?”

He passed over the file to me. I opened it with keen interest. I took out something what seemed to be like a hospital report. My hands started trembling. I looked at him. He signaled me to open it.

Patient name: Rishabh Kumar

Age: 25

Diagnosed with: Cancer

Type: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia

I gasped and the report fell off from my hands. I sat there like a rock unable to comprehend what I had read just then.

“I have only a few days to live.” Those were the only words he spoke that evening.

I could not bear it. I stood up abruptly and ran out of the restaurant like a mad girl. I did not want to disturb that serene atmosphere with my wailing.

*****

“Rishabh!!!!!!….” I exploded once I was safe in my room. I cried my lungs out. I hit my head against the wall and threw things all around. My parents were banging on the door, saying, “Pragya..what happened? Why are you wailing and throwing things?”

“Please go away…” I shouted back at them. There was no more sound from the other side. They left me alone. I wailed till my voice broke and I could wail no more.

“Why should this happen to my Rishabh? What sin did he do?” I cursed God for giving him such a pain. It was just then I realized that I had abandoned him in the restaurant. It was the time when he needed me the most. But I had just left him. I tried calling him. But he did not respond to any of my calls or messages. I felt miserable.

“My Rishabh needs me…” Another flood of tears broke from my eyes. I could not stop them. I was not able to sleep that night. I tossed around in my bed. I was completely filled with Rishabh’s thoughts. His painful words never left me.

The next day, I met him in a secluded place in our school. I stared at him hard into his eyes. He held a lot of remorse within himself.

“Rishabh…” I cried and hugged him. I melted in his arms.

“Please…leave me alone Pragya.” He started crying.

“Dare you say it once again!!” I burst out at him. “I will never leave you alone. You are my life Rishabh. How could you say such?”

“But I am not your life anymore. Because I don’t have a life.”

Those words hurt me much. Once again, I hugged him, “It’s just your mindset Rishabh. Nothing is going to happen to you. Don’t be afraid of your life. I am there for you. I will be with you forever.”

“It’s so easy to say like this Pragya. But you can’t live with a person with terminal illness. How can I assure you of your happiness? Life will be a hell. I know it’s difficult for both of us. But we have to do this. We need to move away from each other.”

I felt an urge to slap him at that moment for his negative speech. But I controlled myself. “How could you  speak like this Rishabh? You have been the one who radiated positive energy all around. You are the one who makes me smile always. Now from where did you learn these negative stuff? There is no disease without a treatment. Everything has a cure. You need to have a will power to live.”

“But the doctor has clearly told me that the cancer is in its acute stage and I am counting my days. Just think about your life Pragya. You will be all alone after I die. For that, it’s better to separate now.”

There was a few moments of silence. I bit my lip. I entered into deep thinking.

“Rishabh…let’s get married.” I told him, finally.

*****

“Pragya, meet me in Blue Hills restaurant.”

I read the message a thousand times. It was unbelievable. He had finally talked to me after he walked out on me. I dressed up quickly and met him in the restaurant.

“How are you darling?” he asked me with a tinge of sadness in his voice.

“Do you even know me Rishabh? How can I be fine without you? It was so easy for you to leave me on that day. But I have been suffering from then. See, I can’t be happy without you. Live with me Rishabh. I will show you the true meaning of life.”

“But it would be a sin to marry you Pragya. How can I spoil your life knowingly?”

“You are not going to spoil my life. I promise you, we will be happy. I have talked to the doctor for your treatment. He said though it’s acute, he will try his level best. Please have some hope Rishabh.”

He entered into a deep trance. I did not disturb him. I let him dwell in his own thoughts.

After a few seconds, he said, “Let’s get married Pragya. I too have a life. And I want to spend that life with you. However short that life might be.” He smiled at me.

“I have been dying to see this smile Rishabh.”

“I need to give you the best gift till the end of my life. The gift of love.”

*****

“Mom, take me out for walking please.” Mohit pleaded with me.

“Will you be quiet without pestering me for chocolates and ice cream?”

“Yes mom, I promise.”

I took him out for a small walk. He enjoyed the cool weather and we had childish talks. Without Mohit, my life would have been incomplete. He made my life cheerful and he was the solely responsible for my existence.

“Mom!!! Let’s sit on that bench.”

I turned around to see that same stone bench where I had bitter experiences. But I didn’t want to offend my son. We walked over to it.

“These flowers look so beautiful mom!” he exclaimed.

“These are Kurinji flowers. They bloom once in twelve years only in Nilgiris.”

“Did dad gift you these flowers? Because I saw a bunch of dried ones inside your diary.”

I was dumbstruck at my son’s words. He brought me back Rishabh’s memories. I smiled thinking about those days spent with him. Rishabh had indeed taken a good decision to marry and live with me till the end of his life. Because, he had given me the best gift of love and that was Mohit.

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