“That was a great presentation, Anay!”
They were impressed by his work, but he didn’t care at all. He quickly completed all the formalities and escaped that place as soon as he could, rushed downstairs and started his bike. It was 2 PM in the afternoon, and he needed to reach Alibag as soon as he could. He had a meeting to keep.
It takes around four and half hours to reach Alibag from Mumbai, and the road isn’t that great at all. But he always preferred using his bike. He knew someone else loved it as much as he did. Rather, even more, as he recalled.
“Why are you not taking your bike to IIM Bangalore? You look so good on it.” A giggle followed.
“Stop teasing. I know I have made a mistake by buying such a heavy one and find it tough to ride. But one day, you’ll see.”
“Yeah yeah, we’ll see ha, my little man.”
He reached Alibag beach when it was just the right time. The sky was dark enough to let him walk unnoticed by the passers-by, but the moon ensured that he could see someone from close proximity. The breeze was not a wild one, but cold enough to calm the wilderness inside his heart. The nostalgia was at its peak, and the night was ripe for it.
The moment he parked his bike and got down, he knew that he had made a mistake by coming here. He knew that he had made a huge mistake, and this night would probably haunt him for a very long time (as the previous one had). Still, he needed it. It was his drug. His raison d’etre.
Pushing all these thoughts on the back-seat, he moved towards the serene beach that he had not seen since such a long time. His suit was not made for such endeavours on a beach, and nor did his new shoes. Struggling to walk on the wet sand, as he saw his feet making strong impressions on the face of the sand, one could easily see two pairs of feet walking on the sand that came from a distant past and made impressions on his face.
“My feet are so small. Your feet just look like the ones of elephant’s” A sweet, feminine voice said.
“Oh yeah? Then see my feet crushing yours” He would retaliate while stepping onto her footprints, trying to make a statement. She would try to run away, making more sand impressions and he would jump on those impressions. This insane game would last only till she’d exclaim, “See, finally, I’m making you follow me.” and he’d say, “That’s what I want to do all my life, your highness”.
They both would stand there, looking into the eyes of each other, till tides would wash their feet.
Yes, tides. He realised that these tides were now growing bigger and bigger, as he was standing right in their way. He was standing in a knee-deep water, and he had not even realised that. Sweet memories, he thought, make you forget everything.
He stepped out of the water and started walking on the pavement, which was adjacent to the beach. A pavement made up of concrete blocks and stones, had memories of several conversations stoned on them; and so on his mind as well.
“You are leaving for IIM B tomorrow. What will I do without you for 2 straight years?” A small, shaking voice had asked. She had been trying too hard to stop her tears, but he, like always, hadn’t understood it.
“I will be coming here every 3 months, in all the term breaks. And I am more worried about how I will do there. I neither am from any IIT nor have any good work experience. Plus, I have somehow managed to get in there, probably the last seat. I will be like a rat in the party of lions and dragons.” He was genuinely worried. He had worked so hard to get in there but was now having self-doubts about himself. He always had a world-size chip on his shoulder, and that weight had always scared him while taking his big decisions.
“Don’t worry Anay, you are going to do great. It’s a big achievement that you have made so big, despite not being from any top-tier institute. And let me tell you, its not about the size of a rat but the fight of the rat that matters.” She had managed to reassure him about his strengths like she always did.
Yes, she always had. She had stood with him during all of his bad phases. When nobody believed in him, she was there, holding his hand, giving him all the strength he needed. He knew he couldn’t have made through such a terrible competition at IIM B without her support. Especially, during the first two terms, known as the ‘Devil’s Terms’.
“Do you know Anay, I am at the beach right now. Missing you so much.” He could feel the love in her voice over the phone. He had just received the results of his first term.
“Guess what, I almost failed in my first term. A CGPA less than 2.5 and ‘C’ grades in almost all the subjects. This shouldn’t have happened to me. I have always been a topper throughout my life. This can’t happen to me.” He was collapsing. He was unable to digest his first failure. He was not used to failing.
“It’s Ok, Anay. Failure is the first step to success. If you don’t fail now, then it’ll be even more tough for you when you fail later. The taste of a failure is bitter, but a monotonous sweet life is no fun at all. This b-school is providing you a safety net, so use it to its fullest.” She had cut his fall like she would always do.“Listen na Anay, I want to tell you something.”
“Not now, I have an assignment to complete. We’ll talk later.” He had abruptly cut the call. She was used to this, yet a sob was unheard.
His feet stopped, realising that he had reached their usual spot. He liked that spot too much, only cause she liked it. And she had all her reasons to like it.
“See, this spot is neither too far from the beach, so it’s not too dark and nor is it too close, so we can avoid the crowd as well. The place is just near the pavement and is full of flat rocks, where we can sit without any trouble. You can see the Fort clearly from here, and so the sea. During high-tide, the water will touch your feet, but it won’t make you wet. Plus, the angle is so right, that you can easily see the moonlight illuminating the water, and the splashes just feel like pearls, don’t they?”
“Uh… Ha. Right.” His confused, perplexed voice had said.
“What has happened, Anay?”
“Summer placements. I am not getting any shortlists, and I am losing my mind over it. I needed some peace, that’s why I have come here. It’s totally out of my hands.”
“The placements completely depend on your past records and your ability to network. Being an average introvert, it’s becoming very tough for me to get a shortlist. And if I don’t get placed on day 0, I’ll have to face the GD day, and I am not good at debating at all. How will I survive?”
“It’s OK, you’ll get a shortlist. And who told you that you can’t debate? You were so good in your school days. All you have to do is gain some confidence.”
“Yes, that I need. Otherwise, I’ll be grilled as hell.”
“No, you won’t be. Listen, I have to tell you something before you go. I….”
“Not now, please. I am really not in a mood now.”
“Uh…Ok.” He started walking towards his bike. Little he knew about the tears in her eyes, and her efforts to wipe them out.
She was right, he thought. Those splashes really look like a string of pearls. But she was also right when she had said, that you wouldn’t be able to hold them in your hand, ever. He remembers, how he had refused to accept the truth.
“Listen, you need to stop comparing your success with others. You have become very greedy.” She had never sounded so firm before.
“What are you trying to say?” He knew what she meant, but his ego was not ready to accept it.
“See, you needed good grades, which you got in all the terms. You needed a good company in summers, which also you got, and you converted the PPO too. Now, you want to start your own company, just because some random friend of your’s has started one and has raised funding. I don’t have any issue with you starting a company, rather, I’d love if you do so; but don’t start it just for the sake of gaining popularity.” She was begging, and he knew it.
“How dare you question my dreams? And what’s wrong with becoming popular? Success is all about popularity, and I have a world to conquer. I have to prove my worth.”
“No, Anay. Don’t define your success in terms of the world. It’s not right.”
“Why are you saying like this? Now I see, you don’t want me to be popular, cause you don’t want me to leave you. That’s all you want, don’t you?”
“Why is it always about you, Anay? First, it was about IIM, then grades. Later, it was about your placements and salary and everything. Why don’t you see, you are running behind materialistic things, and you are not caring about me or even your family. When did you ask me last time about how I was, or even, how my job was going on? Do you even know where I work?”
“That’s enough. I don’t want to talk to you at all. Ever. That’s it.” He rammed his phone. He was angry, but he knew, she would be there for him, no matter what. But all he needed to do now, was to focus on his new start-up. Things will get right in a few days, and he’ll call her then.
And things had gone well. Though he had struggled in the initial phase but managed to raise funding for his new venture eventually. Conditions were favourable for his idea, and he capitalized on it and built a successful startup, which was worth millions of dollars. He became popular in the process too, but realized, how hollow the popularity was. But it took him 8 years to understand what she has been always saying to him.
He checked his watch: it was at the time. He stood up, walked a few steps behind his ‘spot’, just to hide behind a coconut tree. He was expecting her here, and he knew exactly what he needed to do.
And she came. He could see her clearly from behind the tree, only he didn’t want to. Cause she was not alone. She was holding a hand of her 4-year old son, whose second hand was being held by Rohan, her husband. She had tried her best to tell Anay that her parents were forcing her to get married, but his obsession with his dreams and his ego had always stopped her from doing that. And Rohan had always been a friend who stood behind her in every situation, so she had agreed to his proposal.
Anay learned about this marriage only after it was too late. He had always hoped her to be with him, whenever he needed her; but he had always forgotten that she had a life too; filled with ambitions and dreams; filled with a desire to be loved.
He stood behind the tree, quietly, watching them sit on the ‘spot’. He knew of their habit of coming here every weekend, and he’d also arrive here often, just so that he could get a glimpse of her. He had never approached her again but had never forgotten her too. He would always watch her holding Rohan’s hand and playing with their son.
“Anay beta, don’t play in the water. You’ll catch a cold.” He heard her call her son. Tears rolled out of his eyes, blurring her image and dispersing onto his hard-earned suit. A suit, that had cost him his love.