The sun was shining bright. Perfect weather for a jaunt to the mall, some shopping, coffee at Starbucks and just in time for lunch at home with the kids. She looked down at her hands while making the call and made a mental note to advance the manicure appointment at the salon. Unable to contain her excitement and happiness, she started blabbering as soon as the phone was picked at the other end.
“You seem to have it all”, exclaimed the person on the other side, somewhat hurtfully. “You are wrong, darling, I DO have it all.” said Shweta laughingly, the confidence in her voice ringing out clearly. Shweta was on top of the world. Vikram, her husband was a handsome man and a family guy at that. Their two children were beautiful, intelligent, talented and doing exceptionally well at school. The Ahujas had a lavish lifestyle, Vikram was at the helm of things and had his feet grounded. Shweta was a devoted wife and mother.Their family and friends loved them and some were even envious of their closeness. It appeared as if they did not need anyone.
Of course, nobody could deny that they had put in their soul and blood into making their family appear the way it did. Vikram had worked hard for this. Material things mattered to him. He wanted to buy the best house on the block, drive the best car around, send his children to the best school in the city, throw the best parties in town and have the best holidays ever! He was a perfectionist and a relentless one at that. Shweta was a perfect complement to Vikram’s doggedness. She was beautiful, fun loving, affable and carefree, not to mention a successful ex-model.
Shweta was excitedly planning their annual Diwali bash and was calling friends to invite them over. They had a huge gang, but Shweta longed to have a real friend. The one she couldn’t have…not anymore! After all that happened 10 years ago, how could she even call herself worthy of being a friend. She couldn’t have helped herself, not then and not now! She had been madly in love with Vikram, right from the moment their eyes had met. Had she not been Richa’s best friend, things could have been different. But it wasn’t meant to be that simple.
She could recall each and every event that happened on that fateful day in a painfully slow time lapse. Shweta and Richa had met as neighbours on a nippy Diwali night 22 years ago! Just as the neighbourhood brat burst the long line of sharp crackers, the girls clapped loudly and hugged each other. They were happy to have a friend in each other. Their parents had been in government service and were allotted adjacent accommodation in Lodhi Colony. Studying in the same class in the same school, playing the same games, spending every waking minute together, the two had grown up virtually as sisters. What boyfriends and jealous classmates couldn’t do, board exam results did! Richa scored very well and got into the top college of her choice while Shweta had to settle for the nearby girls’ college. The girls made separate friends and studied separately, for they had different subjects. But both used to meet once a day regularly to catch up with each other. The undergrad years passed quickly and Richa’s father retired, leaving for his home town and lodging his only daughter in a nearby paying guest accommodation with Shweta’s parents as her guardians. During the same time, Shweta got into modelling! Richa had never thought that the plain Jane Shweta was the glamorous types! Hell, she had gone to a desi girls’ college too! Time flew…Shweta started modelling full time while Richa went on to study Masters in Business Administration from a top city based institute.
Soon enough, Richa’s parents started looking for a suitable match for their professionally qualified daughter. Weekend after weekend was devoted to this sole activity. Even though Richa was quite fed up of the mamma’s boys that she had to meet and chat with, she didn’t complain. She was her parents’ only child and had been born quite late to them, naturally her parents wished to see her settle down before anything happened to them. Richa would always confide in Shweta about the smallest thing that happened in her life; which is why it shocked her when one fine day Richa called to say she was getting married to Vikram, a boy she had been dating!
The marriage was happening in Richa’s hometown and Shweta was to reach the same day. Shweta wanted to talk to Richa to know more about what happened and why it happened, but for some strange reason, Richa was withdrawn as she proceeded with the wedding ceremonies. Shweta felt lonely. That’s when Richa’s parents introduced her to Vikram. She felt a strange connection with Vikram as soon as she saw him. Attributing the attraction to a natural response of acceptance towards her best friend’s husband, she left it at that. The wedding concluded rather quietly with the strange absence of noisy relatives, gaana-bajana and the boisterous leg pulling of the bride and the groom. Everyone returned home.
Richa and Vikram were planning to live in the Delhi suburbs and the girls met as often as they could. Couple of years passed and both the girls became more and more busy. Shweta’s parents were now getting worried with their daughter showing no signs of settling down and her glamorous work taking her all over the country. They were afraid for her. Luckily for them, Richa and Vikram were like a set of another children and all three were very close to each other. Vikram decided to take the matters in his own hand and promised the septuagenarians to convince Shweta to settle down. Richa was quite pleased with Vikram pitching in as she had always felt a lot of gratitude towards Shweta and her family as they were the ones who had always supported her in the city when her parents had left.
Shweta had been miserable and she couldn’t tell anyone why! With each passing day, she was becoming more and more attracted to Vikram. He was the perfect gentleman, perfect son-in-law and a perfect husband, always at his wife’s side, ever willing to be at her beck and call, remembering occasions, keeping in touch with relatives, organising and straightening their lives. He was kind, gentle and funny! He often played good samaritan to the neighbours and always had a smile for the kids and the old people. His goodness was however, adding to her pain. Shweta could clearly see that things were not good between Richa and Vikram. Richa was doing very well at her job, whereas Vikram was still struggling. Very often, Richa would joke or sarcastically remark about how Vikram was the only permanent feature in their drawing room. Vikram would look the other way or laugh it off. During their fights that were happening way too often; which Shweta thought, Richa would deliberately pick, Richa would storm off after venting. At first, Shweta thought, it was happening amongst the three of them, but soon, it was clear, Richa was looking for ways and means to pick up a fight with Vikram in front of everybody – her office friends, their common friends and even at family get togethers.
“Ma’am, the party planner called to confirm today evening’s appointment.” The crisp voice of the housekeeper startled Shweta to the extent that she thought she had been dreaming about the whole thing. Snapping her mind back to the present, she thanked the gentle lady and asked for the driver to get the car on the porch. She looked at her watch. It was a gift from Vikram, in fact the first one after they got married. It was a plain Titan watch with an off white mother of pearl dial and a golden chain. It was her favourite piece of jewellery, something she never left home without. Vikram had often requested, pleaded and cajoled her into letting go of the watch and wearing one of the many luxury timepieces he had bought for her, but she wouldn’t give in.
Vikram Ahuja was in the middle of his workout in the gym when his phone buzzed. His staff and colleagues knew that one hour from 7-8pm every evening was sacrosanct to him and they never disturbed him except during an emergency situation. Wiping his face with the towel, he quickly took the call. The silence that followed for about 2 minutes from his end, could make the sweat dripping from his brow scream out loud. It was Richa! She wanted to meet. Vikram thought for a minute and invited her to their Diwali party. He knew what was he doing. Striding purposefully, he left the workout in the middle and headed towards the sauna.
Vikram didn’t want to upset Shweta so he put off telling her about Richa’s call till the very end. He was flying back from Mumbai the same evening as their party and had promised to pick up Richa from her hotel, which was quite near to their house. His thoughts darted back and forth! He and Richa had been dating on and off when suddenly she had brought up marriage. He had been a little taken aback by her frankness but had decided to go ahead. Richa was successful and responsible. What more could he look for in a wife! He had been foolish to mistake liking for love.
Vikram loved Shweta, had loved her from the moment he saw her at his wedding. He felt as if the wind had been knocked off from his sails. She was everything that he ever wanted or needed. It was as simple as that. They had never exchanged profound words of love or passion. Hell, they didn’t even have an extra marital affair while he was married to Richa. Theirs was a love that people say transcends lives. Shweta had believed in him for what he was. She had never supported the divorce because of her friendship with Richa.
On the other hand, Richa had unleashed a terrible viciousness on both of them. Accusing Shweta to have used her beauty to come in between her and Vikram, she had cited adultery as the reason for divorce. Giving up whatever little he owned was never an issue for Vikram. In the end, Richa left, wrecking many lives. Shweta’s parents disowned her. Vikram was left jobless, penniless and homeless. Their past was full of a lot of tears and sweat but Vikram was happy that Shweta and he were together. As is proverbial, lady luck smiled at him and there was no looking back. He minted money and gave Shweta a life that one could only wish for! Theirs was a union blessed by God. However, Shweta hadn’t been able to come to terms with the fact that somewhere she was responsible for her friend’s failed marriage. Till now, she believed she was living a borrowed life. And Vikram wanted to change that.
The party was on in full swing when Vikram and Richa walked in! The city’s creme-de-la-creme had gathered at their huge, sprawling penthouse, facing the golf course. Page 3 faces, plunging necklines, ramp ready fashion, shiny baubles, twinkling champagne flutes, elegant chandeliers casting long shadows, exotic flowers, delectable hors-de-oeuvres and in the middle of it all, the toast of the town – Shweta! Richa couldn’t take it all in at one glance, she was panting with the sheer awe of the evening. When she had gotten in touch with Vikram, she hadn’t really expected him to talk to her, much less invite her to his home. But here she was…
Shweta took one look at Richa and froze. For the first time in ten years, her confidence vanished and the fine lines of age took over to make her face look stricken. Purposefully, Richa strode ahead. It seemed that the entire world noticed the trio of Vikram, Shweta and Richa strategically positioned near the door, in the centre of the room and right under the chandelier’s spotlight respectively and sensed something sensational was about to happen. At least that’s what Shweta thought. She felt her breathing almost stop and her chest become constricted and saw Richa’s every movement magnified ten times over. She was petrified.
The tears flowed unabashedly, from both sides. Richa was hugging Shweta in a grip so tight that she almost lost her balance. Both the women were talking at the same time, just like old times, as if nothing had changed, the way they used to, in their tight little government flats, scouring around for privacy in the hallway or the near the window to discuss boyfriends, Mills & Boons or the latest crush! Shweta forgot her party, her socialite friends, her celebrity gate crashers, her home, her husband, everything! She and Richa were 18 again. it was only when Vikram’s arm came around her shoulders that she realised where she was.
Richa opened her mouth to speak, but Shweta silenced her. No words were uttered and none were needed. Just then, the biggest and the most colourfully extravagant fireworks went up from the golf course. The girls clapped loudly and hugged each other. They were happy to have a friend in each other.