Mumps, measles, and puppy love are terrible after twenty–– Mignon Mclaughlin
Let’s set the clock back four years. Yes, that’s when I realized how complex and silly falling in love can be. I had recently got admission into a private university for my BBA degree program in Delhi. As I was from Uttar Pradesh, I settled my base at the swanky house of my maternal uncle who was a well-known businessman in Delhi. Life at the university campus was a bit awkward at first, but I settled in after a few days, and made even a few friends. I was very modest, and good at making friends. One day when I got back from the campus, my phone buzzed. It was my mom.
‘How are your studies going, Prateek beta?’ she asked in her high-pitched voice as soon as I picked up my phone.
‘Slow but steady, ma,’ was my unpretentious answer to this awkward question.
‘Work hard and pay attention to your studies. Don’t let your mind wander away. You know what your dad went through to arrange the money for your admission fee,’ she blurted out these words as if she already knew what she had to say.
‘I know, ma! Do you really have to keep reminding me of this to put additional pressure on me?’ I shouted in exasperation, and before she could say any word in her defense, I hung up on her. I felt really bad at whatever had transpired between me and my mom. My mom was always overprotective about me.
I went upstairs straight and started walking on the terrace to divert my mind from the conversation we had had. It was then I heard some girl laughing at full volume on the phone on the terrace of the house adjacent to my uncle’s. The way she was laughing irritated me as I was feeling very bad. I chanced to see her face in the milky light emanating from the street lamp. And my goodness, it was such a pretty face that––blame it on my petulant hormones––my heart skipped a beat. I kept staring at her face until she went downstairs. I wanted to know about her as I had never seen this girl earlier in this house. I knew the only one I could rely on any information regarding the vicinity was Rahul, the only son of my maternal uncle. Rahul was a much loved person in our family because he was very good at studies and well-mannered. He was very close to my mom. I went directly to his room and inquired about this girl. He told me that the girl was Sejal, and she was away for a few weeks. She studied at the same college where he did.
That night I saw Sejal as my mom in my dream, and the only thing she said to me was about how my dad had arranged the money for my education–– though she said all this laughing uproariously.
The next day I could not concentrate in my classes because her pretty face hovered over my mind, and when I returned from the campus, I could not handle my excitement and headed to Rahul’s room to inquire more about her. The moment I mentioned her name, his smiling face turned into a frowning face.
‘It’s natural to fall for her, given the kind of girl she is. But to be very polite, stay away from her. I have already my eyes set on her,’ was his quick response to my blooming anticipation.
‘That’s okay!’ I shot back in frustration.
‘And we really like each other. We are good friends,’ he spoke very matter-of-factly.
‘What is stopping you to divulge your feelings then?’ I kept coaxing him into revealing more and more about her.
‘The thing is that I don’t want to rush it up. I want her to develop feelings for me. I know she likes me in equal measure. Apart from that, this is none of your business,’ with these words he ended the conversation.
The next day was Sunday. In the evening, when I came back from my solo trip to a cinema hall, I was astonished to see Sejal there talking to my aunt.
‘Prateek beta, this is Sejal. She lives next door,’ my aunt introduced me to her.
We smiled at each other and exchanged pleasantries. I had got this great chance to befriend her, and I wanted to pounce on it as Rahul was not in the house. So I stayed there and waited for my aunt to get busy with some other work. And how lucky I was! Her phone rang in the next room, and she left this room to pick up the phone.
‘So, what do you do, Sejal?’ I initiated the conversation with caution.
‘Well, I am studying Architecture,’ she replied without showing much interest.
‘That’s great! Well, though I don’t remember his/her name, I think someone has said, “Architecture is the art of how to waste space,”’ I said with an impassioned tone. Sejal laughed out loud at this.
‘Okay, tell me what you would make if you were given a huge space,’ I bombarded her with another question.
‘Well, I don’t know. May be, I will construct a skyscraper.’
‘I think you should construct a mental asylum because people are quite crazy in Delhi.’
We kept talking and laughing until my aunt came back. I excused myself and headed straight to my room.
The next evening, when I came back from the campus, I found Rahul sitting in my room. I could sense his anger.
‘What are you up to, ha?’ he confronted me.
‘Why are you trying to cozy up to her? She was asking about you, and what is this about your sense of humor.’
‘I did nothing. It was your mom who introduced me to her. We were just simply chatting. I can’t hold back my sense of humor just to help you hook up with her. If you are that insecure, why don’t you make your move?’ I retorted.
I wanted Rahul to commit some mistake. I knew that in exasperation he could mess up his relationship with her. I knew that I had to get Rahul out of my way to get close to Sejal. And frankly speaking, I didn’t experience any pangs of conscience in doing so.
The next day, I followed Sejal up to the mall where she used to go for shopping. I approached her and behaved as if meeting her there were just accidental. I requested her to have coffee at the cafeteria. We started talking about our studies and career aspirations. I waited for a while before I squeezed Rahul into the conversation.
‘Are you friends with Rahul?’ I asked, looking away as if I had accidentally mentioned his name.
‘Yeah, we are close friends. He is very popular in my college. He is one of the toppers in my college. We get along like a house on fire. He is always there to help me.’
‘The other day he was telling that he had a huge crush on a girl from his college. Do you know that girl?’ I tried to fabricate a story.
‘Really? He never told me’ she said, looking surprised.
‘He should have told you if you are that good a friend. Please don’t tell him that I told you all this.’
‘Well, this may sound awkward, but can I ask you out on a date’, I mustered up some courage as I wanted to eliminate Rahul from this triangle for once and all.
‘What?! Rahul told me that you were in a relationship with a girl from your hometown,’ she reacted in a very irritating tone.
I felt like vomiting when I could make sense of what she had just said. So, Rahul was way ahead of me in this game. He was already cooking up stories of my relationships. But I didn’t give up.
‘Yeah, I was dating this girl, but we broke up recently as she was not very comfortable with our long-distance relationship,’ I tried make up for lost ground in this battle of love, and fabricated another story.
After this, I didn’t bring up the issue of my proposed date during the rest of the conversation as I wanted to tilt the equation in my favor first. When I returned, I found Rahul outside his room. I went straight to confront him. But at the last moment, I stopped myself because I didn’t want to let it be known to her that I had had a meeting with her. I waited for two days before I could not control myself, and called Sejal. We had exchanged our phone numbers during that conversation.
‘Hi, what’s up?’ she shouted over the phone.
‘I am good. I just wanted to ask something,’ I articulated very apprehensively.
‘Yeah, go ahead,’ she answered back.
‘Now you know that I am single again, can I ask you out,’ I uttered chirpily.
‘Well, sorry to hurt your feelings, but I am already seeing a boy from my college.’
‘Yeah, I wanted to tell you but…’
‘Is that boy, Rahul?’ I interrupted her.
‘How can he be Rahul? The other day you yourself told me that he had a huge crush on some girl’, she rejoined.
Now, I was confounded beyond imagination. I could not understand what was happening to me. I was racking my brains. Without wasting any moment, I went to Rahul’s room. He was not there, and his phone was lying on the bed. Fortunately, it rang. And surprisingly, it was my mom’s number. I picked up the phone and before I could say anything, she said something that added to my confusion.
‘Hello, Rahul beta! Is Prateek still trying to get in touch with Sejal?’ she whispered over the phone.
I could not believe my ears. What was he up to? I disconnected the line, and started looking for Rahul. I was angry beyond the limit. I wanted to punch him in the face. I found him outside the house. He gave me a cunning smile. I tried to calm down because I didn’t want create a scene at my uncle’s place. Finally, I told him everything that had happened to me during these days, and asked him to clear the air.
‘Now that you know all this, I am gonna tell you everything. I am not playing any game with you. I have nothing against you. It was your mom who hatched this plan. After you asked me about Sejal that evening, I got a call from your mom. She told me that you had hung upon her. She sounded very concerned. She wanted to know if you were dating any girl. I thought I should tell her about Sejal because of the way you had asked about her. She wanted me to help her, and as I share a great equation with her, I did. She chalked out a plan where I had to tell you that I was serious about Sejal even though she is nothing more than just a friend to me. And when Sejal told me that you were hitting on her when she came to meet my mom, I told her everything and asked her to help me in this plan. She agreed as it seemed quite funny to her. But, I think Sejal went overboard with her stories. I think now you know everything,’ Rahul explained the whole story.
I was left speechless. I had made such an ass of myself. Though, the way Rahul had explained everything made me realize that I was also playing a game with him. I was very angry with mom, but she had always behaved this way when it came to my love affairs. Then, my phone rang. It was my mom.
Mumps, measles, and puppy love are terrible after twenty–– Mignon Mclaughlin