Be careful with love glasses. They are opaque.
Gayatri was from a very conservative South Indian family that went to a temple every Saturday. Syed bought goats for his family every Eid. That said it all. Their paths would never have crossed if it hadn’t been for that fateful day. That day when he walked into the coffee shop. Gayatri wondered if destiny chose our loved ones for us. Did we have any role to play at all ?
Syed and Gayatri didn’t mean to fall in love. But love happens when you least expect it. It creeps up suddenly. When someone needs attention, care, conversation, laughter, and maybe even intimacy. Love doesn’t look at logic, or at backgrounds and least of all, religion.
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The events of the day she first met Syed played themselves accurately in her mind’s eye. She had thought that it would be a Saturday like any other Saturday. She would work as a receptionist in Shivam Musical Instruments in Chennai and go home at midday. But one phone call from Sudha had changed her plans. ‘Hey, I’ve to meet my boyfriend at 5 o’clock in CCD. You’ll come along ? Gayatri, I won’t take no for an answer. I’ll pick you up at 3 o’ clock. We’ll go shopping and then to CCD, alright ?’
Gayatri had never talked to any guy. She had tried to avoid them as much as possible. Love, relationships, dates, all these things had held no importance for her. She had been an obedient daughter and someday, had wished to get married to a boy her parents chose for her. But, there she had been sitting, in CCD, along with Sudha, her boyfriend Ravi and Rav’s (as Sudha called him) friend Syed. Syed had greeted her warmly and smiled. He had complimented her that she was looking pretty in her saree. When they decided to leave and catch up later, Syed had asked Gayatri for her Whatsapp number. Sudha had laughingly said, ‘Syed, she won’t give you her number. I’ll text you her number.’ Gayatri had been uncomfortable with Sudha giving her phone number to Syed, but by the time she could object, the die had been cast.
Syed had texted her the next day, ‘Hi gayatri, Syed here. How are you today? Can we chat?’ Gayatri hadn’t wished to continue the conversation and encourage him, but she couldn’t hold herself back. They had started by chatting on Whatsapp. Gradually, he had started calling her whenever she was free. They had even met a few times.
Gayatri had come to know that he was the heir to Siddique Group of Companies, an only child and a Mamma’s boy. He was a teetotaller and had great respect for women. He worked as a real estate agent under his father and made quite a lot of money by cracking a lot of high-value deals. Moreover, he was tall, fair, always dapper and walked with confidence. All this had made him even more handsome in her eyes.
They had been dating for almost a year now. Gayatri had to accompany her mother to the temple every Saturday and Syed visited the Masjid every Friday. They met every Thursday at five pm to catch up. Their conversation lasted for hours. Sometimes at the cafe, sometimes in his car, sometimes in places that she could never tell her friends about. She didn’t want them to know. Syed made her happy. She could be herself with him. She didn’t need to pretend to be someone she wasn’t. Here she was, on one such Thursday, awaiting him in the same CCD where they had first met. She looked at her watch. Syed was late.
Suddenly her phone beeped. He had sent a message. “On my way. Have something important to tell you.”
Gayatri stared at it and realised she had knots in her stomach. Thoughts flooded her mind. What did he want to tell her ? Was he going to break up with her? Over the last few days, he hadn’t properly replied to her queries, answering only with yes or no. He hadn’t been present in the moment, mentally. His thoughts had been elsewhere.
In a few minutes, Syed arrived in his BMW car and called her. ‘Hey darling, are you inside CCD ?’ She said ‘Yes, I am, Syed.’ ‘Yeah, so I’m waiting in my car outside. I want to take you somewhere. Come quickly.’ ‘Ya, I’m coming.’
She stepped into the brand new BMW and they zoomed off. Gayatri asked, ‘Where are we going, baby ?’ ‘That’s a surprise, my love. You’ll know soon enough.’
Syed applied the brakes outside The Leela Palace and both of them walked inside. Gayatri noticed that he was in a very cheerful mood. But, she didn’t and couldn’t guess what was going on in his mind. Syed said to the waiter, ‘Waiter, we’ll have kozhakattai, seeyam and idiyaappam.’ Gayatri was still puzzled. It was the first time he had taken her to such a swanky hotel and had ordered South Indian delicacies. Syed could sense her curiosity. He signalled to the waiter to bring ice-cream. The waiter brought a bouquet and a card along with ice-cream. ‘Go on, take the bouquet and read what’s written in the card. It may be from a secret admirer of yours.’ And he winked. The card read: ‘To My Dearest Love, there’s nothing more I would wish for if I had you. You make my heart skip a beat every time I see you. You are and will always remain special to me. When I think of you, a warm feeling envelopes me and I fear losing you. My darling, I need you to help me overcome my fear. And you can help by allowing me to ask for your hand in marriage. From Your Love, Syed.’
Gayatri was stunned. She had no words to express her feelings. She knew that someday this would happen, yet she found it difficult to come to terms with what had happened. She had tears of joy in her eyes. Syed was saying, ‘Gayatri, I know that we both are from different religions and although it’s the 21st century, our parents won’t be too happy with this news. But, this is our life, Gayatri and we know what’s good and bad for us, right ? I’ll come to meet your parents soon, but before that you’ll have to tell them about me. I’ll do the same. What do you say?’ Gayatri took some time to collect her thoughts. Then she said, ‘I love you too Syed, and I don’t want to lose you. I’ll talk to my parents and try to convince them. But, it’s going to be a long-drawn out struggle and I need your support always.’ ‘I’m always there for you, love. Don’t worry. Come, I’ll drop you home.’
Once upon a time, there was a boy and a girl. They met and found each other fairly attractive. They married and lived a fairly happy life. The End.
If only love stories were so simple…..
The next day was Good Friday. She had a holiday. Now is the time, she thought. She said, ‘Amma, I want to tell you and Appa something.’ Her mother was stringing jasmine flowers and her father was reading The Hindu. Both of them looked up, thinking what their daughter wished to tell them. Gayatri continued, ‘I haven’t told you both… I’ve been seeing a boy from a year. We love each other and want to get married. His name is Syed Khan.’ Her parents’ faces were blank. When they realised what she had just told him, hatred took its place in their eyes. Her mother strode up to her and gave her a tight slap. ‘Gayatri, how dare you! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Respectable girls from our Iyer community don’t do such things. And he’s not even a Tamilian. Muslim, aiyo aiyo! Did we bring you up with morals and customs only to face this day ? So you think you’ve become so smart that you have decided to live your life the way you want ? But remember my words, girl, our community will make you an outcast if you do such foolhardy things. And never will we accept a Muslim for a son-in-law, never. You are a disgrace to our community, to your parents. Perumal alone knows what all you’ve done with him! Slept with him before marriage, without even telling us, aiyo. Don’t stand in front of me. Just go away.’ Gayatri’s father did not utter a word. However, Gayatri sensed what her Appa was feeling at that moment, the feeling of being let down by the daughter he doted on.
Gayatri left the room feeling disheartened. There were tears in her eyes. Being an only child, her parents had showered love and care on her. Their only wish had been to get her married to a decent boy settled abroad, so that Gayatri could be financially stable once they were no more. She thought, ‘Why do I love Syed so much ? Love is a feeling which cannot be expressed in words, I agree. When did I become so brave that I could muster up courage to face my parents with such a news as this? Maybe it’s true what people say: Love makes you strong. I have to convince them somehow.’
Syed broke the news to his parents. Coincidentally, he also was an only child. His Ammi and Abbu were aghast. They reasoned that the girl didn’t eat non veg, wasn’t from their religion, etc. She was not what they had in mind for a daughter-in-law. Syed’s Ammi shuddered when she thought about how she would get on with a daughter-in-law who was a Hindu and didn’t know about their customs and traditions.
Here, Gayatri’s Amma had consulted a well-known Babaji who had given her a piece of cord to tie round her daughter’s wrist. It was meant to ward off the evil eye. When Gayatri came home from work one day, her mother said, ‘Come here. Let me tie this on your wrist. The bad spirits which have got hold of you will now become powerless. And I have given your horoscope to our astrologer. You will get married as soon as he finds a suitable groom for you.’ Gayatri was rendered speechless for a minute. ‘Amma, I’m fine. Nothing has happened to me. I’m not possessed by any spirit. I love Syed. And I want to marry him. Amma, Muslims are also humans. Their men and our men are the same. What is different is only the religion. Why don’t you understand? I’m fed up with you telling me what to do from childhood. For once, let me have it my way. Nowadays, inter-religion marriages have become common.’ ‘They may be common for your so called indecent friends like Shreya. I have told you a hundred times not to talk to girls like Shreya. See, how she’s hypnotised you!’ ‘Amma, Shreya has not done anything. So don’t involve her in this. And I will marry Syed, come what may. You accept it, well and good, if not, nothing can be done.’ ‘Chee, chee, Syed! What a name! To say it feels like I’m committing a sin.’ ‘Oh, Amma, you’re just impossible!’ said Gayatri and walked away.
As the never-ending struggle of the two lovebirds was going on, fate was crafting its own story. Syed’s mother started having breathlessness and bloating . When she went to the doctor, he said, ‘Mrs Khan, I cannot say what exactly you’re suffering from until you get these tests done.’ When she showed the test reports to the doctor, she got the shock of her life.
She was diagnosed to be in the later stages of cancer. This news literally sucked the life out of Syed and his father. Living each day became difficult for the three of them, for while she suffered physical trauma, they suffered mental trauma. Syed couldn’t bear to think that his Ammi would soon leave them.
Gayatri too became upset on hearing this. She told her mother about Syed’s mother’s illness. By now, Gayatri’s mother had tried all that she could. However, Gayatri remained firm. So her parents had also resigned themselves to fate and were willing to invite Syed home to talk to him. They were also secretly happy that his mother was going to die soon so Gayatri would be spared the torment of a mother-in-law. Moreover, he was rich.
However, Syed’s mother was adamant. Syed tried to make her understand. ‘Ammi, Gayatri is a good person. And to be practical, when you are no more, who will take care of Abbu and me? Marrying her is better than marrying a stranger. She is ready to convert to Islam and change her name for my sake. Which girl would do so much, tell me ?’
Finally, one day, Syed visited Gayatri’s home. If her parents didn’t give him the treatment he deserved, at least they didn’t make him feel inferior because they knew he was going through a rough patch. Gayatri also met his parents.
Syed’s mother’s condition worsened and the doctor pronounced that she had only 24 hours to live. On her death bed, she said to Gayatri, ‘Beti, I have brought up my son like a prince. Take good care of him. I wish I had a daughter like you. If Allah wishes, I’ll be born to you as your daughter. You have my blessings.’ Syed and Gayatri were crying uncontrollably. As she breathed her last, once again they proved to the world that love is blind.