A Strange Case Of Love
By Saranya Rayaprolu
"The smell of books - the old, the new - addicting.”
"I understand. But, we are supposed to talk about the problem you came here with. I am starting the timer. Sixty minutes.”
"Umm-, that's what the problem is.”
"That the books are addicting?”
"No. She is addicting.”
"But, you were talking about the books - the old, the new.”
"That, I was talking about the beginning of our story.”
"So, there is a girl?”
He nodded. "There was, actually.”
"Oh, I am sorry. How did it happen?”
"No, I did not mean that. She is very much alive, I guess. And I hope.”
"Then what is the problem? A break up?”
"Not at all. We were never together, to break up.”
"Then, who is she?”
"A critic of clichéd romance fictions, whom I am not able to stop thinking about, nor am I able to concentrate on anything else, and for this reason, I believe that my job is at stake. That's my problem. I met her for the first time, a week ago. And since then, she is stuck to my mind like glue. I know, that's a gross way to describe my situation, but it is what it is.”
The other person smiled, sheepishly, but, composing himself, "Continue, please," he said, and flipped over the page of his notepad.
He breathed sharply and nodded, continuing.
He was at the routined place, his natural habitat, like he could be found, every evening, every holiday - every weekend, spending his time, between a heap of books - or rather, a heap of clichéd romance fictions - The ones with the protagonists totally in love, or the ones with enemies falling in love, or the ones where separations were too hard on the heart - some magnificent authors, some lamentable authors, some juvenile and some promising ones - every stance on love, compassion, warmth, was important to him. No, he was not a sixteen year old chap, juggling between the phases of his boyhood and manhood, researching for knowledge on the concept of love and the myriad of cheesy ways to impress or bedazzle his girlfriend, a year junior to him in school, and neither was he a person binging on some random fictions for his pass-time, like almost seventy percent of the people in this library, or any, do. Rather, he was a twenty-eight year old man, who has never been in love before, but, still, still, keeps the audacity to write romance fictions, which are besotted by those newly-in-love teenagers, those secret one-sided lovers, the young adults, and obviously, some well-grown adults, who still enjoyed sneaking into their youth, escaping from the rest of the intellectuals talking of the potential occurrence of world war III or some random religious politics of a secular country, for some teensy-weensy moments. And for some extra information, he is not a person, who left everything else, for writing fictions, which would hardly earn him enough to pay his bills, but, he had done himself enough mercy by completing his education, even though it meant sidelining his writing for a while. He was a person earning a fair amount for his living, for the time he spends before those know-it-all machines - forty-five hours, in a single, damn week - at a renowned, infotech company, down the south.
He walked by tens of those bookshelves, filled with every kind of a book. Row after row, neatly lined up, with their spines facing outward, the books were categorised, numbered, and arranged according to different sections - the one for children, or the one for literarily learned and intellectualised people, or the one for young adults and that for adults, or the different, poetic ones. He ran the tips of his fingers over the spine of the books, as he struggled to choose his picks for the day, mumbling the names inscribed over those spines, slowly, as he gazed at each one of them, taking his own time to decide whether to choose or not.
'There are thousands of books out here, Nat. Why do you want to read from a writer who writes nothing, but clichéd romance dumbass fictions, with the routine sweet, sensitive, but smart girl meeting a badass Casanova and fallin' in love with him?' He heard someone say, and his eyes immediately peered around amongst the crowd of seven to eight people standing in the same row as his, as he tried to find the owner carrying on the hushed conversation with another, but, he failed to do so.
'And moreover, the grammar that the writer uses. Arghh! Killed my English speaking abilities for a while, after I read the book on your insistence. I still loathe you for that disastrous experience.' He heard the same voice again, and he looked up through the crevice in the shelf before him, moving a few books aside, and there the owner was, before him. A woman around her mid-twenties, and definitely a college-going, as he had guessed seeing the backpack hung across both her shoulders. Her hair -wavy and the tresses ending just above her shoulders, keeping it comfortingly maintainable. Her dressing - a bit like she seldom cared about what was out there in the trend, these days, as she wore just a distressed jeans, matched with a cement coloured tee-shirt and those big-ass wireless headphones around her neck, made her look unmatchable. Her face - apart from the nude pink lipstick making her chapped lips a bit more presentable, was bedaubed in a kind of anxiety, cringe and irritation, as she spoke of her loathing towards her friend's literary liking.
And suddenly, she turned her head a ninety degrees, feeling someone creepily lurking at her, and for a fraction of seconds, her eyes met his, before she looked back at her friend finding no one, and he moved the books back to their position, feeling awkward. But, still, he stayed there, not wanting to, but, listening to their conversation. Bad manners, he knew, but if he shied away every damn time, he would definitely be robbed of the reality that his novels lacked, according to one of his critics, who never stopped himself from writing the cringe he felt reading his novels, and every review of his, was right out of his heart, and it always, always, ended with the line, 'No offence to the author and his fans'. And this time, this author was really offended, as he was determined, now, to write something real, something different, and something out of his own experience.
'Bro, He's the national best-seller, right now. And my favourite, apart from that. Did you even read his 'Never been in love before'? The way he describes everything, is ... is ...' the other girl spoke, trying to find an exact word to appreciate what a work of absolute art the novel was, and her eyes glistened as she spoke of it, which told how impressed she was with it. And this girl - everything totally opposite of the girl before her - fashionable, totally girly, absolutely maintained. Nevertheless, his eyes got curious and a smile crept up his lips and lingered, as he heard his work being praised. It was not something unusual, but, every time he came across something like this, he definitely felt those butterflies in the pit of his stomach, like he would always describe in his fictions.
"So, Is it about your writing?”
He nodded, while also shaking his left leg, uncontrollably, and his eyes were focussed on the shrink before him.
"You are anxious about something?" The shrink asked, as his eyes fell over his shaking leg.
"No, I am not. Or maybe? I don't know.”
The shrink looked at him, curiously, but nodded.
"So, she's basically a critic of your work?”
"Hmm-, kind of.”
"Okay, continue, Kabir.”
'Is bullshit, bro, bullshit.' The other girl yapped, totally annoyed. 'I read the book as soon as you suggested me, and oh my god. Well, honestly I'd call that day a wasted one - just another love story with another predictable plot and a very lovey-dovey narration. B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T. To add more, the writing - absolutely juvenile and cringeworthy.’
'It's not that bad, Nisha. His perspective of love makes him different from the rest of them.' The girl whisper cried, trying to make the other one understand what a Kabir Singh Rathore novel' was.
'His perspective of love - utterly unrealistic, and again, bullshit. Trust me, he's never even been in love, and even if he did, it was as unrealistic as any of his novels.' She commented, and Nat breathed frustratedly, rolling her eyes. This girl, she made him more than curious, now. He couldn't understand how she knew about his absolute inexperience in the sector of love. This girl, she felt interesting and intriguing to him. He would definitely like to know more about himself, from her. But the way she spoke of his novels - he felt offended - and she talked as if she knew of love more than anyone else, but her age, her behaviour told him how inexperienced she was, too.
'And again, what was her name? Umm... Nisha. Yeah, Nisha. That's what Nat said.' The curious author told himself, as he continued to look at her through the gap above the books. 'But, how experienced are you, Nisha?' He questioned her in an inaudible whisper, more like questioning himself.
'Nish, you know that I love romance fictions. And trust me, Kabir's novels are really good. I can't simply stop reading them.' The girl tried to explain her love for romance fictions to her friend, and specially, Kabir's novels.
'Who's asking you to stop reading them, damnit?' Came an immediate, sharp response from Nisha. 'I love romance fictions too. Just not his.’
'Then what is the problem, Nisha?' Kabir questioned himself, yet again, in the same under-toned voice, never being daring enough to make it reach the person to whom it was dedicated to.
'What do you want me to read, then?' Nat asked Nisha, stressed.
'Dude, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Nicholas Sparks. There are plenty of them. Read them. You'll know what real love is.' The spark finally appeared in Nisha's eyes, as she finally spoke of her choice, and this, somehow, mysteriously brought a smile over Kabir's face, as he looked at the sudden burst of energy, adoration in her tone. They were some of his favourites too, however.
'Obviously. The western influence.' He told himself and giggled a bit, shaking his head in an astute manner. But, suddenly, her words made him pick the Nicholas Sparks's 'The notebook', lying right before his eyes, and he turned the pages to the synopsis page, eyeing over it, and he remembered reading it while he was in college. It was, indeed, a great work by the author. He was going to reread it again, today. He had been needing a motivation to write, right now, and if this book could give him what he wanted, then, why not? And within moments, he found himself scrounging through the racks, searching for the other books enlisted by her. He was sure, he had found enough picks, for the day. Not bothering about the two girls, anymore, he walked over to the table - the one in the corner - the most peaceful one, and sat, resting the books before him, and hours and hours passed, as he flipped and read each and every page of the books, again, after years. He had read all of them, before. And as he read the last line of the last book, he finally looked up, and realised that the lights were even brighter and the library was even lonelier. He pulled his sleeve up and looking at the time in his wrist-watch, he realised, that it was nearly the closing time. And as he closed the book, her memory came gushing in and he didn't know, why, he suddenly had the urge to see her.
But, she was gone.
"So, you went to the library to get your inspiration?"
"I was suffering a writer's block. Hadn't written anything since the past six months.’
"So, you found your inspiration?”
"The books suggested by her?”
"Why 'kind of’?"
"Because those books didn't work out for me.”
"Then, what did." The shrink asked, baffled.
"I am sorry. What?”
"My next novel. It's her.”
"You are writing a novel on her?”
Kabir nodded. "I have finished writing a quarter of it, already.”
"Then, what is the problem?”
"That I am overthinking about her. She's always in my thoughts. I am daydreaming about her. I think, I am going insane. I see her everywhere - criticising me, criticising my work, and also giving me different ideas to write, motivating me, talking love to me. And most of the time, I am either writing or thinking about her, in the thirty-seventy ratio. And this has never happened to me, before. And, this is insane, bro.”
The shrink looked at Kabir, giving a yet another sheepish and awkward smile, again.
"This, indeed, is an issue.”
"See. That's why.”
"You saw her again?”
"I want to, but I did not, after that.”
"You want to?”
Kabir nodded. "I want to, and I don't know why.”
"You don't know why?”
"I don't know why! That's why I came here!”
"Do you think you love her or something? Just an impossible, wild guess, since, you met her just once.”
"Do you think so too?”
"No, I don't... Wait, what? You think that you love her?”
"Okay. Can't it just be like you are too influenced by her?”
"How can I be 'too influenced' by her, in just one meeting?”
"How can you fall in love with her, in just one meeting?”
"Point." He acknowledged, and nodded.
"But, can it really be love?”
"Yes, maybe. At least my literary knowledge suggests so. Maybe not love, right now, but definitely an unspoken, indescribable feeling that she is supposed to be in my life. My entire body is telling me, like it's connected to a magnet, that I have to talk to her, get to know her, and have her in my life in some sort of capacity. And moreover, I have not been to the library for a week, since then, because I am forgetting things, thinking about her.”
"But, she hates you, as per your description.”
"She hates my books. Not me.”
"Aren't both the same thing?”
"You should really reconsider and rethink, before jumping to conclusions. But, my job here, is only to suggest. So, your wish.”
"No. I really want her in my life.”
The shrink breathed, frustratedly, now, but didn't let it appear the same way. "So, how are you going to approach her?”
"Again, Point." Kabir said, nodding.
"Maybe she isn't single?”
"How do you know.”
"Stalked her social media accounts, a bit.”
"Okay, fine, a whole sleepless night. Last night.”
"Should I prescribe you some sleeping pills or something?”
"I don't need pills. I have a good sleep cycle. It's just that it was about her, last night.”
The alarm clock rung as the session came to an end.
"Your time's up. We can catch up with this in the next session, if you wish to continue." The shrink said and finally breathed.
"I don't think I am going to need another session.”
"Because, she's the solution to my problems and I am going to meet her. Tomorrow.”
"At the library.”
"How do you know that she's gonna be there?”
"The books in that library are issued only for six days, and it must be returned on the seventh day. The stupid policies of that library since time immemorial. Nisha, she had an 'Ayn Rand' in her hand. The library edition.”
The shrink nodded, surprised at his observation skills. "And tomorrow is the seventh day?”
Kabir nodded and smiled, showing his teeth.
"I feel that she'll come.”
"What if she doesn’t?"
"My time's up, you said." He did not wish to answer the question, maybe, mainly because he didn't want the answer, himself.
The shrink nodded. "The receptionist will hand you your prescription.”
Kabir nodded and stood up, shaking hands with the shrink, and silently moved out, the next moment, and the shrink fell back on his couch, exhausted, exasperated and frustrated.
"Writers are crazy people." He commented and sighed, massaging his temples, as his head ached, profusely, now.
For days, Kabir's incomplete story had managed to keep the shrink waiting for him at his doorstep, eagerly, but, months passed by, and Kabir hadn't shown up at the psychiatrist's place, as of yet. Maybe he was right about finding love at first sight and the purpose of him coming to the shrink, itself, was solved, or maybe, he had found an alternative solution to his problem or maybe he was just busy completing the book he had been writing on her, when he came here. Writers do have deadlines to be followed, but, who knew. Kabir was a case, he had never experienced, in his career of nine years in human psychiatry. He had often heard his patients talking of love at first sight, but, in this case, it was strange and totally out of the context of love, itself. And after all these months, the crazy writer's memory came gushing into the psychiatrist's mind, as his eyes fell over the Pride and Prejudice lying in the second row wooden bookshelf, in a corner of his cabin. He breathed, and rose from his seat, for the second time in the day and shoving his hands into his pockets, relaxed, he strolled out of his room and walked to the reception.
"Any further updates on the writer's case?" He asked and the receptionist eyed at him curiously and got lost, thinking, for a bit.
"Which writer, sir?" She asked.
"I-I don't remember his name." He said.
Okay, stop lying now.
"The guy who wrote 'Never been in love before'." He said, as if it took him a lot to remember what he had said.
"Oh-okay, Kabir Rathore, it is." The receptionist told him and gave a goofy smile.
"Yeah, it's him." The Psychiatrist said. "You read his books?" He asked.
"One of my favourites." She commented. "He released a new one last week. I am yet to grab a copy.”
"Is it?" He asked. "What is it named?”
"A strange case of love." She said. "It is a quirky tale of love of a writer who falls in love with .. “
"A critic of his books." He replied, interrupting, but, looked away, awkwardly.
"You read it already?" She asked, curious.
"Just a wild guess." He said, nervously
"I am going to take a stroll. I will be back in an hour or something." He said and she again nodded, smiling briefly.
He walked out of his clinic and strolled along the busy roads in the market lane. It was his daily habit - taking a random road, every evening and exploring what they had to offer in different aspects. Sometimes, those random shops with antiques, or sometimes, those restaurants serving the authentic cuisines of a particular place, and today, it was somehow and intentionally the bookshop, in the fourth building in the lane he walked in. It was not everyday that he was seen around bookshops. He wasn't a book-buff. And the last time, he remembered visiting a bookshop or a library, it was somewhere in his late twenties. He was a busy professional, racking his brains, solving problems of many, like Kabir. But, Kabir, as per his judgement, was not troubled, but, just a confused, and stressed, writer.
Not everyone who came to him, was troubled.
The door chimed, as he pushed it open and walked in, alerting the owner of a new guest's arrival. It was an old bookshop, and unusually rushed, as if everyone suddenly wanted to be at the bookshop, today, and the first thought he got as soon as he entered the place, was to walk out. He habitually avoided crowded places. He didn't like being around so many people, except when he was doing his job. The job, itself, was enough for the homo sapiens to get onto his nerves. Humans are, indeed, strange creatures. He was about to exit the place, when his eyes fell over the once again national bestseller, Kabir Rathore's book, lying in the rack of new arrivals - in fact, a rack full of his "A strange case of love," specially highlighted, as if no other new arrival mattered. And he immediately found himself grabbing a copy of the book. And quickly paying for the same, he exited the place and made his way back to his clinic, and as he walked in, he immediately hid the book beneath the layer of his blazer, away from the receptionist's vision, because, no, he didn't want to be caught guilty reading a clichéd romance fiction. He was a fully grown thirty five year old.
He was, more like, curious.
"Do I have any appointments left for today?" He asked, standing at the door of his cabin and turning around.
"No, sir. The next one's at nine, tomorrow morning. I will let you know if there's any rescheduling of appointments." The receptionist said, and Viraj nodded, pushing the door and walking in. And securely closing the door, he submerged into the cosy couch in his cabin, and breathing, he looked at the cover of the book in blue and pink. He didn't know why but it had become very stereotypical of romance authors to choose these two colours for their book. Maybe, there was some logic or philosophy behind it, as well. He was still dubious about the thought of reading this book though. Should he or should he not?
"Based on the Author's real life love-story." This was inscribed in gold beneath title of the book.
Anyhow, dismissing all the reasons for him to not read it, he flipped open the cover, and at the inside of the cover, was his most charming ever photograph with those black reading glasses, and his smile, was somehow, contagious, as Viraj found himself smiling, as well. He flipped another page and there was the dedications he had to give, and he chuckled, as he found himself enlisted in the same, as the most humble shrink ever. He had not expected this after the single session he had with him. Curiously, he turned the pages, skipping everything else and directly turned to the page where the story started.
"People find love in the strangest of the places and I found mine in the row adjacent to mine in a library filled with the fragrance of old and new books...." The first sentence of the book read, surprisingly managing to bring upon a smile on Viraj's face.
"She was not at all like a breathe of fresh air, like in the fictions talking of love at first sight, but, she is as messy as I am, but, strangely, she hated my books. She calls them 'clichéd romance Dumbass fictions'. Are they really that bad? Who knows...". Read the next line and Viraj let out a slight giggle, reading it. And as he continued reading, the next few pages contained the details of how he saw her for the first time and everything exactly the way he had described to him, during the session. And it didn't take him much time to read the pages and know and understand between the lines too. Nisha was not wrong - his grammar, indeed, was a bit juvenile. But, he ignored everything as he found himself connecting to what the author tried to talk. He realised that it was relatable, indeed. He had never seen a real life situation worded so well, and hence, he couldn't stop himself from acknowledging the fact. He found himself drowning in this little guilty pleasure of his, as he read a few more pages. And after some twenty pages, came the most unexpected turn in this story. And 'he' was the twist. The Psychiatrist was baffled at how the author had turned their conversation into words, not even changing his name, either. He laughed at how he was described as the humorous psychiatrist brother, he felt he should have come to, before. And when he begun the session with Kabir, he had not even the tiniest of clue that he would be casted in a pivotal role without him knowing of it. Word to word, dialogue to dialogue, everything from their session of sixty minutes was in their, with an obvious exaggeration of a few things and details, in an attempt to make the scene humorous, and Kabir Singh Rathore, was successful in doing so. And surprisingly, Viraj found himself liking the character he was portrayed to be. And somewhere in the middle, he got remembered of why he picked this book in the first place, and the curiosity stuck him, asking him if he met her, and he flipped the next few pages reading them with a much more pace.
His curiosity was killing him.
"...The next day, as I walked into the library, I was doubtful if I would really see her again. My heart, it was filled with an unspeakable heaviness, and mind, with many indescribable questions. I couldn't sleep the whole night, thinking, if what I was feeling, was really love-at-first-sight. I still didn't know. How would I? This was for the first time that I felt something like this. But, the mere thought that what if she doesn't come, today, was enough to strangulate what all I was feeling. I wondered what I would do, if she didn't. And for a moment, the thought of not being able to see her again, scared me..." Viraj suddenly started feeling awful for Kabir, his unofficial-patient, his brother, thinking and feeling everything that Kabir was going through, in the book, right now. It was hurting him - this wait. And It was something very real. Because, even if this wasn't love, this wait, it was real, and this effort, it was real, so, the love, maybe was real too. He read ahead, skipping a few lines, intermittently, as his desire to know the ending grew fourfold. 'So, Did Kabir meet his Nisha or did he not?' His mind and heart kept questioning him, repeatedly and impatiently. And for the last few pages, he was engrossed, absorbed, almost in a trance and transported to another reality. And as he reached the second last page, he stopped for a moment, as he realised that the story was about to end and it was hurting him more, because as per the story he had read until now, he hadn't met her yet. And this evoked a sense of fear and insecurity in his body.
"Did Kabir meet Nisha or did he not?" He asked himself this question, once again and the probability that he hadn't was making him wanting to throw the book away. Just one page and so much to fit in. He didn't want an ending where the protagonists get separated. He usually never cries, but, what all Kabir wrote until now had shaken him to the core and he definitely desired for a happy ending for his brother and there was a tinge of moistness in his eyes. He felt scared, flipping the last page, but, courageously, he did, hoping for some sort of a fictional miracle which usually never happens in reality.
"... the lights of the library turned brighter as the dusk approached, and I, found myself sitting at the same, corner table, still waiting for her to arrive, continuing to stare at the first page of the fountainhead, for five hours straight, now. This too was for the first time, that, I could not finish a book, as my mind stayed occupied in her thoughts. Would she come or would she not, my heart kept asking, and if she didn't, maybe, my first love was destined to stay incomplete." The last lines of the two-sixty-two-paged-book read.
Viraj was aghast, reading the ending. It was not like he hadn't expected this possibility when he started reading the book. But, if she didn't come and his love-story really was left incomplete, then this was one bad heartbreak for his brother. The ending, it was unacceptable - like, how did Kabir even dare to write such an ending, leaving the readers at the cliff-hanger - because if this is an incomplete love story, then, "What the fuck, bro?" Viraj cried, wanting to almost throw the book away. He slammed the book beside him on the couch and took his phone out from one of his pockets and dialled his number, and surprisingly, after two or three rings, Kabir picked up the call and said, "Yo, bro! What's up?”
"What the fuck, Jojo? What do you mean by maybe your first love was destined to stay incomplete? Did you meet her or did you not? This isn't even a proper ending. I feel like ripping your book into two pieces, right now. And how dare you not show me your face for two months? Where the hell are you?" And just as Viraj was done venting out his frustration, he found Kabir burst into a fits of laughter on the other side, and it just made Viraj more annoyed.
"You read my book, bhai?" Kabir asked, still continuing to laugh, holding his stomach and his eyes had tears from all the laughter he just did. "Oh my god, I never expected you to call and say this.”
"Shut up, jojo. Did you meet her or did you not?" Viraj questioned him, irritated, all the more. Kabir was about to say something, when Viraj said, "Just a minute," as he saw the door of his room open and the receptionist walk in.
"Sir, there's a rescheduling." The receptionist said and Viraj made an annoyed face, because, right now, the ending of the book was more important to him.
"Now? It's almost the closing time." Viraj said, eyeing at the wall clock.
"The patient's saying that she can't wait till tomorrow." The receptionist spoke.
"Okay, do your work, then. I will talk to you in an hour." Kabir spoke and hung the call, still laughing.
"Send her in." Viraj said and strolled over to his seat, and as soon as he sat down, a woman of around twenty-five walked into his cabin and sat before him, looking tormented by some thoughts going on in her mind. She was unusually silent. Viraj passed a brief smile and welcomed her in and she simply nodded, sitting over the couch before Viraj. She looked as if she would burst out crying, any moment, and this was worrying him.
"Are you comfortable, Miss?" He asked, trying to make an eye contact with her, but she never looked at him and nodded again.
"Can I have a glass of water?" She managed to speak.
"Sure." Viraj mumbled passing her the glass lying before him, and she emptied the whole glass, within seconds and in one go.
"You can take your time. I won't start the session until you are ready." He said but she shook her head and replied, "There's a lot I want to speak and there won't be enough time if I waste anymore time.”
"Should we start then?" He asked and she nodded.
Viraj paused for a second hearing the name, as it reminded him of the crappy novel he just read. “Age?"
"Student or working?”
"Okay, so, I am starting the timer. The next sixty minutes are yours. You can start by telling me your issue, and slowly, we'll find out the possible solutions.”
And, suddenly, she burst out, crying, baffling Viraj. He immediately walked over to her and placed his hand over her shoulder, asking, "Are you fine, Nisha?”
She immediately wiped her tears, composing herself, and said, "I am alright. Can we start, now?”
"Are you sure that you are alright?" He asked, adjusting back in his seat, and she nodded.
"It's just that all of this makes me cry, sometimes.”
"You can cry, if you want. I will pause the timer. I don't have any more appointments for the day.”
"Thank you so much, but, I don't want to waste your time.”
"Then, you can tell me anything and everything. You don't need to feel uncomfortable.”
She nodded. "Have you ever been in love with someone who doesn't deserve your love at all and at the same time, you want to give your all to them only?”
"I had an arranged marriage. So, I can't relate.”
"There's a guy.”
"You love him?”
"Then, he doesn’t?"
"Then, what's the problem?”
"I hate him.”
"Is he a wrong guy? Tell me more about him.”
"The Most right guy ever.”
"Then, why do you hate him?”
"Because, I can't love him.”
"He's an author of clichéd romance Dumbass fictions, and I totally hated them.”
Her words blew his mind. How could she speak exactly like the girl his brother wrote about? He started wondering about the probability of this girl being the same girl. He ogled at her in disbelief for a few seconds, and then breathed, composing himself and continuing the session, but, the ending of the book kept churning in his mind. He needed his answers, desperately.
"How does that matter?" He continued.
"Because those books are totally against what I like.”
"You are worried that you'll be embarrassed.”
"Okay, fine, it's just that I grew up hating those books. Now, how can I forget my hate and love him? Also, my friends will make fun of me. The way I fell in love with him is filmy and cliché and bullshit.”
"There's always a difference between loving a person and hating a book."
"I don't hate them enough, anymore, since I read his latest work, out of curiosity, because he gave me the first copy as a gift. I have been ignoring my feelings for him, until now, but, I can't, anymore. I want to say yes to him and I am scared of the reactions from the people around me.”
"You read 'A strange case of love’?"
She looked at him, curiously, for a moment. "How do you know?”
"Umm---, just a wild guess. Nothing else.”
She nodded. "He wrote a book on me. And I fell for him, harder, after I read the book. You read the book too?”
"I am not a fan of romance fictions. So, No.”
"So, tell me about your story.”
"I saw him in that library, before. For a mere fraction of seconds, though I could not guess who he was, then. He mentioned this in the book, as well.”
"Then, after that, our second meeting was when I went to that library, that evening…"
She was late for the library, after her extra classes. In fact, she didn't even remember that she had a book to return, until Nat reminded her of the same and they literally had to run all the way from their college hostel to the public library just to reach before the library shuts down and escape the heavy ass fine that would be imposed on them, from the next day, and they were absolutely broke, owing to the month end. She and her friend walked into the library, looking like two damp kittens, after drenching in the heavy rain outside. Nisha smiled sheepishly as she slid the wet book towards the librarian and he looked up, annoyed, seeing the state of the book.
"It is raining outside and we don't have an umbrella." Nisha made an excuse and the librarian nodded, being in an unusually good mood.
"Thank you so much." Nisha said and they immediately walked out of the library, but, continued standing under the roofed area, as it still rained, and now, even heavier.
"Nish, how will we go?" Nat asked, eyeing at the downpour.
"We have no other way, Nat. Let's leave only. We can't wait here for the whole night." Nisha said and held Nat's wrist, pulling her into the rain, but she immediately pulled Nisha back under the roof.
"I can't afford to get sick, right now. We have exams from the next week, in case you forgot about them.”
"We can't keep standing here the whole night.”
"I am sorry, but, I am not going anywhere till the rain stops.”
"I can drop you at your place, if you don't have a problem." They heard a third voice, of a man's, and the both of them stopped arguing and turned around, to find a guy in black hoodies standing before them. He pulled his hoodies down and smiled, looking at them. While one of the two ladies was overjoyed seeing her favourite author offer them a lift, the other one was quite not pleased with the mysteriousness of this guy. He looked unbelievably handsome, but, suspicious, as well, and she couldn't risk her safety going with a stranger.
"OMG. Kabir Singh Rathore. I am a big, big fan of your work." Nat was absolutely excited seeing him there. "Can I take a selfie with you?”
"I think I will drop you guys at your place, first. It's too late, right now." He blatantly ignored her request, as his eyes hovered over the disinterested face of Nisha. "Only if you don't have a problem with it.”
"Obviously, we don't..." Nat was about to give her permission, but was immediately shushed and cut off by Nisha, who said, "We appreciate your offer, but, we will manage.”
"I understand your concern of not wanting to share your space with a stranger, but, it's really late, right now, and you won't get any public transport at this time due to the rain, as well. Both of you can sit in the backseat. I won't mind, at all. But, it isn't safe for you two to be out this late." The man who wrote romantic fictions spoke, trying to be the mature one in a situation like this, but, everything he said depended on Nisha's approval only.
"Fine." Nisha said, giving his words a second thought and he gave a brief smile.
"And in case you find me any suspicious, 1091 is the women helpline number and 100 is the police, or simply, beat the shit out of me. I don't mind." He said and giggled a bit, and turning to Nisha, he said,"You can trust me, Nisha.”
"You know my name?" She asked, suspiciously.
"Your friend said it." He made an excuse, and she nodded.
"I'll go and get my car." Kabir said and walked away.
"Dude, he's such a nice person." Nat said to Nisha, dreamily, while Nisha continued to look at his retreating figure, with much suspicion.
"Well, he looks more like a psycho serial killer, to me." Nisha commented and crossed her arms across her chest.
"Bro, stop reading Sherlock Holmes. It's getting into your head." Nat said, annoyed. "You can't even appreciate how helpful he's being to us.”
"He is weird." She commented.
"Not more than you." Nat replied.
Nisha rolled her eyes and breathed, frustratedly, saying, "You and your Kabir Rathore fever!”
And within the next one minute, a black sedan halted, right before them and Kabir rolled down the window a bit, and asked them to get in, and they got into the backseat, as decided. And as soon as they sat, Kabir looked at them through the rearview mirror and asked, "Where shall I drop you two ladies?
"Christ College." Nat spoke, absentmindedly, and Nisha grunted in irritation as she told him their actual address. Well, it isn't always safe to share your details with a stranger. Kabir giggled a bit, seeing the irritation over Nisha's face, and started the ride. The initial minutes of the ride was totally silent, with Kabir stealing glances of Nisha, secretly, while Nisha not at all being interested in any kind of conversation, and Nat, not knowing how to start a conversation with the renowned author.
"So, what made you a writer?" Nat managed to ask.
"Just had some stories to share. That's it.”
Nisha let out a sarcastic chuckle at Kabir's reply, and Kabir noticed this.
"I am a big fan of your 'Never been in love before'. What was your inspiration behind it?" Nat asked her next question.
"I am the inspiration. I never fell in love with anyone.”
"You were never in a relationship, before?”
"Not even one.”
"So, you never fell for anyone, until now?”
"I did fall for someone. A week back." He said, again looking at her through the mirror.
"And when are we going to get a new book from you?”
"I am working on something. Struggling a bit with the end." He said.
"I can't tell you how excited I am, for it, sir." Nat said, and Kabir giggled a bit, saying, "Me too.”
"So, here's your college." Kabir said, halting his car before the college building, and quickly got out of the car, opening the door for Nisha, and it didn't matter to him, if he was drenching in the rain.
"Thank you." She replied, formally, and her friend said the same words with much more excitement and zeal.
"Can I get an autograph, please?" Nat asked, almost pleading.
"Dude. It's raining and he's drenching." Nisha commented, tugging on her friend's hand.
"It's almost impossible to give an autograph in this rain. I promise you one, if we ever get a chance to meet again. A selfie too. You'll find me in that library every evening after six , in case you want to." Kabir said and smiled, brushing the water droplets off his face with his hand, while the continuous downpour was making it hard for him to even look at her properly.
"OMG, sure." Nat replied, dreamily.
"Good night, sir. I think you must leave, now." Nisha said and almost immediately she dragged her friend away from there. And before she entered the gates of the college hostel, she turned around and looked at him and he still stood there, smiling like a fool.
"So, you met him that evening?”
Viraj almost couldn't control his excitement and he did a victory dance in his head.
She was sobbing, still.
"He looks like a genuine guy.”
"Can you continue the story?”
"I meant, your story.”
She nodded and sniffed, wiping her wet nose with her palm, a few times.
"Definitely as messy as him." Viraj slowly said and chuckled at his own observation.
"I was asking about your next meeting.”
"Two days later.”
"I saw him, two days later, at the same library.”
She walked into the library before four. So, no chance of meeting him, and neither did she want to. She was definitely not her friend with bad literary choices. But, obviously, her friend was always there with her to balance the two extreme parameters with her. Nisha found her way towards her kind of books, while her friend, was again in the Indian Romance Fictions section. There was spark in both their eyes, for the same reason - the books. Nisha brushed the tips of her fingers over the spines of the books, as she walked along the children's classics bookshelf. Her childhood was full of these books, and she didn't mind, becoming a child sometimes as she picked up a piece of Matilda. It was her guilty pleasure. She smiled, bringing the book to her nose and closing her eyes, inhaling the peaceful fragrance of the book.
"The smell of the books - the old, the new, addicting." She mumbled and snapped open her eyes, startled, as she heard someone repeat the words with her.
"It's him. Isn't it?" Viraj spoke, sitting at the edge of his seat, now.
"You?" She asked, and he let out a slight chuckle at her question. "What are you doing here?”
"Just came by for a tea with the librarian.”
"I obviously came for the books, Nisha. To take some inspiration.”
"Can't I be here?”
"I mean, you said that you come here after six.”
"Well, there's no particular time for the days when there's no office.”
"It's not a holiday, today, as far as I know.”
"I am very sick and in the bed, down with fever, right now, and I don't have the strength to move out of my bed.”
"The excuse that I took to not go to the office, today.”
His words made her chuckle, involuntarily, and he smiled a bit, seeing her smile.
"What kind of inspiration were you taking in children's section?”
"Got diverted for a while, as I saw the classics. A huge part of my childhood."
"I thought Indian Romance Fictions were your forte.”
"They are definitely what I write, but, not all that I read.”
"What do you read?”
"Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Ayn Rand - are some of them.”
"Then why do you write What you write? No offense.”
"I know that you hate my books. I realised that they indeed are clichéd romance Dumbass fictions.”
"These are my words.”
She was taken aback.
"Bro, you found any book?" Her friend walked towards Nisha, looking at the two books in her hand. "Achha, help me choose between these two na." She said and rose her head, and the two books in her hand fell to the floor, and she gawked at Kabir, shocked.
"I am sorry." She said and leaned to the floor, picking up the books. Kabir picked one of them and gave it to Nat, and said, "Always choose Amitav Ghosh when the choice is between him and I.”
She nodded and thanked him for the pick, while Nisha continued to look at him, confused, and he moved back towards Nisha, standing before her. He smiled seeing her expressions and he said, "Nisha, I don't want to hide it from you, anymore.”
she gave him a questioning look.
"I saw you for the first time eight days ago, in this library. And I fell in love with you. If you give me a chance, I want to make a better life for us. You don't need to respond to it, immediately. You can take your own time. Whenever you think that it is the right time to respond, whenever it is, you will find me in this library after six. I will wait for your response. Do consider my love. I may not be as bad as my books." He said and smiled briefly, lowering his gaze and slid his hands into the pockets of his jacket. And as Kabir said this, both Nisha and her friend's mouths were wide open, in shock, and stepping towards her friend, he asked, "You have a paper or something?”
She nodded and took out her notebook from her bag and handed it to him, still, shocked. He giggled and taking a pen out of his pocket he gave her his autograph.
"Do you want a selfie too?”
She nodded and took out her phone and opened the front camera, and Kabir clicked a selfie with her, and giving a last smile to Nisha, he walked away from there.
"Dude, did he actually propose you or is it all in my head?”
"That's what I am thinking too.”
"Tell me that you said a yes.”
"Why?" Viraj cried.
"Haan?" She somehow could not understand the anxiety she felt in his tone.
"Erm--, I mean why did you not?" He composed his tone.
"I stated my reasons to you.”
"Still? It's been like two months since that.”
"How do you know?”
"Just a wild, wild guess.”
She looked at him suspiciously.
"So, you didn't respond to his proposal, as of yet?”
She shook her head, denying.
"You met him after that?”
She nodded. “Everyday."
"Did he try to talk to you?”
"He never pushed me about that proposal, again. He would just look at me and pass smiles. My friend and he talk, though. As if they are some long lost best-friends.”
"Why didn't you talk?”
She gave him an obvious look.
"Right. You can't lay down your weapons before him.”
"How did you realise that you love him.”
"It just happened with the time. Just his Mr. Perfect behaviour. I felt that he was genuine. And once…"
"He saved me from getting molested. I was alone that evening, while returning from the library. Then, as I was scared and crying, he consoled me, got me an ice-cream and dropped me back at the hostel, and stayed there till I didn't go inside. He kept calling my friend the whole night to ask if I was okay, and if I needed something. And I didn't go to the library for the next two days, and when I did, after that, he hugged me and cried, saying that he got scared, not seeing me.”
"He genuinely loves you.”
"He does. And do you know the best thing about him?”
Viraj looked at her, curiously.
"He never crossed his limits. He respected my space.”
"Whatever the circumstances are, it is true that you do love him.”
"I do, and I don't know what to do. You know how badly Nat teased me after he proposed me? I felt terrible.”
Viraj giggled a bit, but nodded.
"I understand your turmoil.”
"Then tell me what do I do?”
"My job is to only advice. Okay, tell me, did you meet him today?”
"I did not have the courage to, after reading this bullshit that he wrote. He gifted me this, yesterday and asked me to read it." She said and slammed the book before him, taking it out of her bag. "How dare he write such an ending? How can he think that his first love is meant to stay incomplete? How Dare He?”
Viraj took the book and turned the cover, and on the front page with the title of the book, "To, The critic I want to spend the rest of my life with. With love, From Kabir," was written on the top left corner. Viraj smiled, looking at it and closing the book, he slid it back to her and she kept it back in her bag.
"You neither want to accept his love, nor do you want him to give up on his love? This is selfish.”
"I know. Tell me. What do I do? I don't want advices. I need one single answer.”
"Maybe you telling him that you love him solves it all."
"Should I really do that?”
"I think, he deserves a chance. Maybe he improves at his writing, being with you. Love has the capacity to change people, I feel.”
"I don't want to change him, anymore.”
And, the sixty minutes timer ended and it beeped.
"Time's up." Viraj said. "I hope the session was satisfactory and you don't need another one.”
"I will meet him, tomorrow. I guess. Or today?”
"You really should. Don't be so harsh on yourself and him.”
"I've been acting selfish. I don't want to, anymore.”
"I hope you wake up to a better day, tomorrow.”
Nisha nodded and stood up, saying, "Thank you so much.. You answered my question.”
"You already knew the answer to your question. It was just lost, somewhere. And I just helped you find it.”
She smiled and shook hands with him, and silently walked out of the room, leaving Viraj smiling and wondering about this strange, strange case of love. And, this was the best ending a book could ever get. He stood up from his seat and walked over to the couch, and taking the piece his brother wrote, he strolled over to the bookshelf, and placed it beside the pride and prejudice lying over there and maybe, the book might not be as good as it was to him, for others, but, for him, it was one book with the most beautiful ending ever, and he was no more embarrassed to read a clichéd romance Dumbass novel.
Nisha breathed the fresh air after the rain, as soon as she stepped out of the clinic. This moment, she was ready to embrace everything that she was feeling for Kabir, not caring about anything else, anymore, and this was the most beautiful feeling ever. And the love that she felt for him, was causing a ticklish feeling in her chest. And, immediately, she took out her phone from her bag and dialled Kabir's number, for the first time ever, and as if he had been waiting for her call, he took the call just after the first ringer and he said, "I knew you would call," and this moment, a smile crept up her lips and her cheeks turned pink, a bit, not more.
"Can we meet?”
"Where are you? I'll pick you up.”
"I'll meet you at the library.”
"I'll be waiting for you.”
"Sorry for making you wait.”
He giggled. "Come, now.”
"Just a little more time and we'll be together.”
By Saranya Rayaprolu