Bhanu looked up from his computer. He wasn’t able to focus anyway. He might as well stay with the thoughts bothering him.
He looked at his phone, hoping Praveena would be online. She wasn’t. Must be having another long and busy day. Her first job was keeping her challenged and engaged. He texted her ‘Hey, what’s up?’
He had met Praveena at a conference. They happened to sit next to each other. She was wearing a pale pink shirt, beige, and tiny sparkling earrings. So lovely, so sharp. She was earnestly listening to the speakers, even making notes. Bhanu was there for the lunch. He had arrived just before the pre-lunch session started and planned to leave soon after. After all, he had sales calls to make. The conference was nothing he already did not know. Like most people there, he was there for the business cards. He had initiated the conversation with Praveena who did not seem keen on small talk. He gave, more like pushed, his business card. She didn’t have one because she was still a student. It was interesting to know that she was studying in the same management institute that he had graduated from two years ago.
He pursued her casually at lunch and spoke about the professors. “Let me know if you need help with your dissertation. Most important thing – make sure you are liberal with your acknowledgements of Prof Mistry in the acknowledgements page” he had advised. She smiled at him knowingly. There was something reticent about Praveena, which was the exact reason he wanted to know more about her. She was different from the other girls he knew. He hoped she would call him, but she did not. After waiting a week, he found her on Linkedin and sent her an invite to connect.
Over the last six months, they had come closer.
‘Just got back. Want to join for dinner?’ Praveena texted back.
‘Yes, see you in 30’, Bhanu replied and picked up his car keys.
Praveena lived in a large apartment complex, the kind that provided her security and anonymity. They liked cooking a meal together on weekends. When they met on busy weekdays, they just ordered in.
“Praveena, what do you think about Singapore?” Bhanu asked, clearing up the dinner plates.
“What about Singapore, Bhanu?”
“Remember I said I will be going for a week to Singapore? Do you think you can join me?”
“But you are going to be busy in your meetings and conferences. We won’t have time together.”
“Oh no, I will make the time. I can skip a couple of sessions. And let’s stay over the weekend and be tourists. Actually, we can leave this Friday and make it 2 weekends.”
Praveena considered the thought, “No, can’t. Tough thing getting leave at such short notice.”
“Ok, what do you think about living in Singapore?”
“Living in Singapore?”
“News is that I will have to shift there for a couple of years. I’ll have to move in 3 months. I would so much like it if you can join me.”
“What? Don’t be crazy.”
Bhanu leaned over the table and took her hand. “Praveena, Sorry that this is not a proper proposal. We both know we love each other. Let’s get married! What say?”
Praveena stayed silent. She already had thought of the question. But it was only then that she searched for an answer.
Praveena remembered the conversation with her grandmother, Gayathri, almost 4 months back. She had gone home for a short vacation. Her grandmother found her talking on the phone with Bhanu a few times. She probably was also hunched over the phone texting him, more than she would a regular friend. The grandmotherly antennae went up and Gayatri confronted her, coming straight to the point.
“That Bhanu fellow, who is he? Well, whoever he is, don’t even think of getting married to him.”
Praveena protested, “Grandma, Bhanu is helping me with my final semester project.”
“And why are you talking to him so much? Or should I say, ‘why are you studying so much?’ Anyway, your mother wants to talk to you about a marriage proposal.”
“I am not interested, not for at least another 5 years. I told dad about that.”
“You should tell your mother. Don’t you know who calls the shots at your home?”
Praveena was annoyed with her grandmother then. How had she known that she and Bhanu were more than friends? But then, her grandmother’s admonitions were not the reason for her indecision.
Well, she liked Bhanu. She liked his persistence and candor. He was a good-looking guy with a bit of swagger that seemed to charm everyone. He was devoted to her and she loved it. But, did she love him?
Praveena thought of Renuka, her sister. Renuka was eight years older, almost like she belonged to another generation. Renuka was the one who was always ready to get married. Right from college days, she and her friends used to talk about boys, marriage, and housekeeping. Even when Renuka did not know who she would marry, she had visions of life as it should be. She did everything as per her plan. Married at 22, a child at 24. Sunday brunches at the Hyatt with her husband and their seven-year old son, kitty parties once a month, and lots of shopping.
As much as Praveena loved her sister, she did not want her sister’s life. Marriage was neither her end goal nor did she want to embark on an auto-pilot journey.
Praveena did not have an answer yet for Bhanu. She just did not feel strongly about marriage. Bhanu is a great guy and she loved the nights they spent together. But was she ready to drop everything and go to Singapore? Should she settle for a templatized version of the good life? He was ambitious for his career. But, what about hers? She would do well in her own career, if she pursues it.
She wasn’t looking to settle. How could she explain that coherently?
She looked at Bhanu who was giving her the space to respond. “Bhanu, can we do something braver? Can we not marry?”
“But, we have been together a while…” Bhanu started.
“So why is marriage the next logical step? I know what I don’t want – I don’t want commitments. I want to discover my dreams. I am not yet ready to commit.”
“Is that a No?”
“Hmmm. It’s more like a ‘Not Yet’”.
Bhanu understood. Sometimes the best way to strengthen a relationship is to let it be. What he could see coming their way was a test of time and distance. Would they be able to withstand this test? He was confident that theirs was not a relationship that would fade away. But, what about the off chance that it does fade away…? Bhanu didn’t want to pursue that line of thought. Not yet.
“Of course. I understand. Hey, do you want to go get some ice cream?”
At that moment, Praveena admired Bhanu’s emotional elegance to handle the unknowns. And she knew she loved him enough beyond a breezy romance.