Love … Hope… Destiny

Gradually, friendship developed between Ashish and Maya. A friendship based on understanding, respect and trust.

Maya was clearing the drawers of her cabinet that was filled with memories. She had just spoken with Rohan her son who is settled in Melbourne. Her grandson babbled few words to her, “Daaaaadiiiii” and hearing his voice Maya’s heart swelled with love. It was a  Sunday morning ritual for Rohan to connect with his mother through a  video call.

While rummaging through the drawers old incidents flashed through her mind making her smile and cry  both at the same time, depending on which memory touched which chord. She picked up an old album and saw Rohan’s picture. It was taken from a beach holiday when Rohan was a gawky young lad of eight years. Maya picked the album and sat on a wooden chair flipping through the pictures, and in no time was lost in reverie.
Twenty five years passed since that beach holiday and it all just appeared like events from some other life. Maya was married off at a young age. Both the families were known to each other and their marriage was considered to be made in heaven kinds. Her husband was quite a few years older than her and had a dominating presence. She was a free spirited girl who was imprisoned in a golden cage. She had all the money to enjoy but all that she hoped from her husband was respect and some love.
The only expression of love in her married life was the crumpled bed sheets. He could only touch her body but not her soul. Then after the birth of Rohan, Maya got completely involved with her motherly duties and her son filled up that void which was missing from her life. Her husband would treat her well in front of their relatives, but in private would taunt and gaslight her. In all the years of emotional neglect, she started to develop an inferiority complex and depression.
Whenever she was with her husband her anxiety level rose to please and placate him. Then one fine evening he just casually announced that he is done with Maya and is seeking divorce. Maya’s world fell apart in few seconds. The feeling of being cheated and betrayed ravaged her mind. That picture clicked, was a reminder from  a vacation taken in hope to save her loveless marriage.
Post her divorce she went and stayed with her parents for the initial few months. Though her brother and his wife never mistreated her, yet she missed out on the sense of belongingness. It was not her home but her brother’s house. Her parents had aged and now they were also dependent on their son. Maya looked for a job and got a work as a designer in a garment factory.
Fashion designing was always her interest and she completed that course with good grades. However, her husband did not approve such kind of work as it was below his status. Having a  CA or lawyer as a wife would shine on his social status, but according to him fashion designer is nothing more than being a glamorized tailor.
Maya worked in the designer firm and made good name for herself through her hard work, dedication, innovative designs and friendly attitude. She was gaining recognition at her work and was gradually regaining her lost self-esteem. After two years, she was made in charge of a new unit in Puducherry.  There was a tinge of excitement and apprehension for a new place and a new beginning.

Puducherry is a buzzing French colonial beach city. The place has a laid back attitude unlike the city of her birth. It has full of foreign tourists throughout the year and hence Rohan and she both got exposed to varied cultures and cuisines.

Life in Puducherry was peaceful. Rohan got admitted in a good school there and was enjoying his studies and made few friends. One evening as Maya was returning home from work Rohan called her and asked her to get cheesecakes from one particular bakery. He would often hang out with his friends there after school. After much cajoling, Maya agreed and went to the shop. As she entered the shop, she was taken away by the soothing aroma of roasted coffee beans and vanilla essence.
She was pleasantly surprised to see that the shop though a tad bit shabby had all the tables full and some customers were queuing up outside as well. She waited for her turn to place the order and after a few minutes, a pleasant looking man handed her the parcel from behind the counter.
“Are you are new here, not seen you before?”. Maya gave him a stern look and answered,
“It seems you know all your customers, to which he replied,
“Yes mostly as this shop is around for almost  seven years and our cheesecakes are famous all over Puducherry.”
Maya just nodded and took the parcel. She never engaged into any sort of idle talk with unknown people. It is not that she is arrogant but the very thought of being friendly with any stranger, especially men makes her nervous. Somewhere deep inside her ,the betrayal she faced from her husband is like an open wound that refuses to heal.
Days moved into months and then on Rohan’s  thirteenth birthday they celebrated it in that café. Few of Maya’s colleagues and Rohan’s friends were invited. Ashish, the owner of the café made sure the place looked bright and  made up for a birthday party. Rohan had also invited him and the boys were friendly with Ashish as they hung out in his café after school most of the days. Rohan introduced Maya to Ashish and she felt embarrassed on remembering her attitude and first encounter with Ashish. It was a cosy, lively party and everybody had a great time.
Gradually, friendship developed between Ashish and Maya. A friendship based on understanding, respect and trust. Maya started getting comfortable with him and gradually disclosed her past and the trauma she faced. Ashish also told her how he lost his wife to an accident and hence started Roma Café in his wife’s name and memory as she always aspired to open a café someday.
The friendship Ashish and Maya shared over the years was very special, it was non transactional love based on respect and understanding. Their friends would often tell them to tie the knot as the understanding they both shared with each other is exemplary. They would reply that after tying the knot, relationships tend to get knotty as it is burdened with expectations. Moreover, Maya is not comfortable with any social bondages post her first experience, once bitten twice shy. On the other hand Ashish is yet to get over Roma.

When love is non transactional then the purity of that relationship shines throughout and it acts more as a soothing balm than a mere social duty.

Ashish and Rohan were mutually fond of each other and Ashish mentored him like his own son throughout Rohan’s adolescent years. The two shared a deep connection and understanding with one another and sometimes Maya would get jealous but equally happy to see their bonding. After Rohan went to Melbourne for his higher studies, Maya would spend more time at Roma’s Café helping Ashish and his staff. The empty house without Rohan would tear her up from inside, but now she is a strong woman and have faced life’s hurdles all on her own.
She has come a long way from being a docile housewife to an avant grade designer specialising in kids wear. Her parents always told her that how one responds to life’s problems, shows the original strength of character. Fate is not in our hands, but one creates their own destiny by the choices they make. Life’s problems would either make or break a person and how he responds to it is what matters.
It is three years now that Ashish died of cancer. Mild fatigue, lack of appetite and debilitating health led to the discovery of an intruder inside him. Ashish had put up  a brave fight for almost two years with Maya constantly by his side. Now when Maya is flipping through the album, tears and smiles all rushed out together.
Now she manages Roma Café in Ashish’s memory and they still serve the best cheesecake in Puducherry. Rohan is married and settled in Melbourne. Maya visits them once a year and she looks forward towards it. Her daughter in law is a good natured girl who respects and loves her and most importantly understands her. Maya has handled her life with grace and dignity and she was grateful for all the setbacks she faced early in her marriage. The hardships have made her a strong woman.
Her friendship with Ashish was immensely enriching than her loveless marriage. He brought out the new Maya and taught her to be more kind towards herself. While reminiscing about the days gone by, she remembered a quote by Michelle Obama that she read somewhere, “Do not bring people in your life who weigh you down. Trust your instincts, good relationships feel good, they feel right, they don’t hurt.” She realised how true it meant. She looked for love in her loveless marriage but destiny brought her where she belonged and taught her never to  kill hope even in the bleakest moments of despair.


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