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HAND IN HAND – Chapter 15

HAND IN HAND

The Reunion Of A Story

CHAPTER 15

“Karan, it’s his birthday today. Better be ready for the crap load of excitement coming your way,” said Sameera, as she walked along with Karan towards the class. Sameera was about three inches shorter than Karan. Wearing sneakers, denims and a chequered purple and black shirt, she would give the impression of a tomboy, except for the long, wavy, and black hair with streaks of auburn. Spectacles on the fair, round face, she was the perfect mix of geeky, tomboy, and beautiful. “I know. He wouldn’t shut up about it from the last week. Please wish him first,” Karan replied, as he pressed his hand against his temples. “Well, you know how he is. I’m pretty sure he’s already in the class, waiting for you.” Karan, younger, about twenty-one, was a lot leaner and visibly younger, wearing a white cotton shirt, sleeves folded up to the elbows, pair of black regular denims, and floaters, but no watch, or a coat.

Barely had they entered, Karan got an overwhelmingly tight hug from Karthik, younger, but just as tall as Karan and the face was almost the same. Wearing a grey polo t-shirt, black denims, and sports shoes, he was the exact opposite of Karan. Karan looked classy. Karthik on the other hand, was still boyish and unkempt, chose to be childish, but was just as smart and had elegance to his advantage. “So, what have you been planning, my friend?” Karthik asked Karan, as he tried to escape from Karthik’s hug. Wriggling out of his clutches, Karan managed to take a couple of deep breaths, before saying, “Never to be trapped in your hug again. That’s my plan.”

“Alright, enough with the drama; don’t act like you don’t know or don’t care,” Karthik crossed his arms and looked at Karan. “Okay, fine. I wish you a very happy birthday. There’s ten more minutes for sir to come, we can talk about this later.” “Dude, come on. It’s my birthday. And the class is more important to you?” Karthik shook his head in disbelief.

“Ahem,” Sameera coughed, deliberately. “You both would make the cutest couple,” she laughed, as she looked at Karthik. “But you are cuter when you get jealous, Sam,” Karthik pinched her nose playfully, and covered his mouth with the other hand, trying to control his laughter. She pulled his hand away from her face.  “Right, I am indeed jealous of your exceedingly weird bromance. Anyways, happy birthday idiot. Try to focus a little more on life and career, you’re twenty-one now,” Sameera wrapped her arms around his neck, and hugged him warmly. “Thank you, Sam. And about life, as long as you’re by my side, it’s all going to be fine,” Karthik winked, wrapping his arms around her waist. “Aww, really? Let me tell you something. Don’t do cheesy. It really doesn’t suit you. That’s more of Karan’s turf, if he ever gets near a girl,” Sameera rested her head on Karthik’s shoulder and they both looked at Karan, who was already sitting in the bench the three of them usually sat in, trying to control the blood rush to his cheeks. “Look at him. His blood vessels are going to burst open if we talk anymore about his girl,” Karthik taunted his best friend. They both walked over and sat next to Karan, as the other students started coming one by one.

Karthik, Karan and Sameera were three distinct and contrasting personalities. Karan was the serious guy. He would never speak much, sit in the class most of the time, and avoided conversations, much liked for being so by all the teachers. He wasn’t a very regular student, but everyone knew the reason. Karan was working part time as an intern in a couple of companies, so that he could support himself and his family. Karthik, on the other hand, was the loud and unnaturally optimistic person. He was famous and infamous among the teachers. He was appreciated for his performance along with Karan when it came to academics, and infamous for being the least serious in the class. He was often targeted by the teachers for not concentrating. Sameera, on the other hand, was a different kind of person altogether. She too was great at academics, but was always focused more on extra-curricular activities. She took life seriously, and had her plans. But that would never stop her from enjoying life at the same time. It was a puzzle to everyone, how these three bonded together.

As the bell for the break rang, the teacher left, and the students followed suit. Most of the class would go out to the canteen to get food. But these three stayed back. Initially, when they had just started college, Sameera would go out to eat. But Karan would bring food from home, and would often stay back, with Karthik staying with him. After meeting Karan and Karthik, Sameera would also stay back. Karthik sat down on the desk right behind the bench they were sitting on.  Sameera stood up, took out a Tupperware container, and opened it. “Surprise!” she shouted as she held it in front of Karthik.

“Really? I don’t think it qualifies as a surprise anymore, Sam. You’ve been getting me that overburnt brownie from the last three years. A real surprise would have been you not giving me anything.” Karthik took a deep breath. “Really? Then maybe you should get used to it for the rest of your life,” Sameera took the box away angrily and put the lid back on. “Hey! That’s MY overburnt brownie. You don’t have the rights to take it back,” Karthik tried snatching it from Sam. She let go of it after some resistance. “Wait, Karan, join us. What are you doing over there?” Sameera called to Karan, who was looking out through the window. Karan hesitatingly walked back to them. “Guys, wish me!” Karthik was visibly excited as he took a fork to cut out a piece of the brownie. “You made it. So, you get to tell me how bad it is, first,” he said as he held the piece of brownie to Sameera’s mouth. “Your nonsense never stops, does it?” She punched him playfully as she took a bite of the brownie. He cut another small piece with the fork and held it to Karan, “Look buddy, I am giving you the unburnt part. That’s how good a friend I am.”

“Please,” Karan rolled his eyes at Karan. “You ate the whole thing last time, and wouldn’t let HER take another bite. You love everything she makes. Why do you make such a fuss about everything then?” Karan broke a smaller piece with his thumb and index finger and ate it himself, staring at the window.

“That is because this idiot doesn’t know how to say ‘I love you’,” Sameera sat next to Karthik and hugged him, and as she rested her head on his shoulders, she put her right arm around his left. “That’s not true,” Karthik argued, with a huge chunk of brownie still in his mouth. He looked at the box of brownie, and said, “I love you, burnt brownie.”

Since he met Karthik on Saturday, Karan had been having flashes of memories of a part of his life that wasn’t as cloudy as he thought. The four years of engineering had been good enough to distract him from his pain, but not responsibilities. These flashes of memory were pleasant ones, but also reminded him of the pain Karthik was going through. He had met Karthik when he started his Pre-University course, and was quite thankful he did. All through school, Karan felt alienated. He wasn’t bullied or picked upon, but he always felt guilty; guilty that he was letting his mother bear the burden of the responsibilities he should have shared. In an attempt to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself, he distanced himself from others. His schoolmates, with time, began to sympathize with Karan, which only agitated him more. As a result, he never bonded well with schoolmates. When he started anew in college, Karthik met him before anyone else. Karthik, along with Ajit, were two people who stuck with him, whether Karan responded or not. They would never abandon Karan, and always included him. They both knew everything about Karan, but for once did not sympathize with him, and treated him like everyone else, which gave Karan a sense of belonging. Ajit was like Karan, but with a more relaxed attitude. After Pre-University, Ajit parted ways to train as the Police, while Karthik and Karan joined engineering. That was where they had met Sameera, who would change Karthik’s life entirely.

And since Saturday, he had been seeing a glimpse of the Karthik he had known a decade ago. Dismissing his thoughts for later, he turned to work. Sitting in his office on Monday, Karan’s thoughts slowly wandered to Surbhi. She seemed fine in the morning. There was no swelling, even after thirty-six hours and Karan thanked the skies, within. He had told her not to come to office, so that she could rest before she strained herself. He decided to forget all of it and go over the documents of the new Egyptian start-up Karthik was funding. After circling out a couple of errors and three ambiguous clauses, he closed the file and dropped it on his desk. “Take a look at the errors. I felt the circled clauses are ambiguous. They might pull the deal in their favour on a technicality. That’s just my view, unless you put that in deliberately for some other reason.”

“No, I’ll change it. I wasn’t thinking straight when I drew it up,” Karthik said, reading the clauses again. “Yeah, about that,” Karan stood up and took off his coat and threw it over his seat. He unbuttoned his cuffs, and folded the sleeves up to his elbows and walked over to the edge of the room, overlooking the city. “I noticed you came over on Saturday to tell me something, and then you decided not to. I’ve never seen you happier till now. What is going on with you?” Closing the file and throwing it on to the table, Karthik walked up and stood next to Karan. Years had passed, but they didn’t change. He still wore a casual grey polo t-shirt, with denims and sneakers, only this time, his biceps were built  to fit the sleeves well. “You’ll kill me if I tell that to you now,” Karthik took his phone out and started going through the messages, just to avoid eye contact with Karan. “Karthik, you know I am not the kind of person who fancies gossip, but this thing that you’re keeping to yourself, I do not know what it is, but it’s meddling with your judgement. Let it out.”

“It’s not messing with my judgement. It’s just that right now, nothing else seems as important as meeting her.” “Meeting who?” Karan knew his answer, but he couldn’t believe it unless he heard him say it. Karthik became nervous all of a sudden. He clenched his hand into a fist, and slowly muttered, “Sam.” Karan knew this day would come, as Karthik always said it would. But four years was a long time. Lives would have changed to the point where familiar people would turn into strangers. Sameera was one such person to Karan. He had almost forgotten her, until two days ago. “But, it has been a really long time, Karthik. Are you sure she hasn’t moved on, especially after what happened?” There was a long silence, as both of them travelled back to the day that changed Karthik’s life forever.

“But, I am not giving up my dreams for you,” Sameera sat down, eyes welling up, in front of Karthik, who sat there with his face turning sidewards. “There’s a difference. Look at me,” she forced him to look at her. “You know I am not the kind of person to lose focus on my plans, for whatever reasons.”

“That is exactly my point, Sameera,” Karthik turned to her. “You shouldn’t lose focus on your dreams for anyone. I thought even I was like that. But I became too busy losing myself in you. And soon enough, I will do it again, and again. Till you finally begin to think I don’t really care about my life. And you will hate me for what I am then. It’s better that I get myself away from you now, when I know you at least don’t hate me,” Karthik clenched his fists. “It’ll give you a chance to get over things, and go pursue your dreams. You won’t be tied down here because of me, or anything else. I too will get a chance to focus on my career, without distractions. Probably, I’ll get to do all of it better without being tied down by you.”

“If that’s what you want, fine. But, me getting over things, that’s up to me. And remember, I’ve known you better than most others, and don’t make the mistake of thinking that I don’t know what you’re trying to do; hurt me so that I would delude myself to think you are self-centred and push myself away from you. That will never work.” Sameera took off her glasses, wiped a tear trickling down her eyes. Karthik just stood up and walked away. Sameera stood up and walked out of the room, and met Karan waiting outside. “I’m sorry about him. I’ll try to talk to him,” Karan couldn’t really say anything else that would probably make her feel better. “Don’t be sorry Karan. He needs you now, more than ever. Take care of him.” Karan was seething in anger inside. He had seen his father abandon his family, and hurt his mother and now his so called best friend was doing the same to another friend. And that friend had nothing but love for him. He decided to give Karthik one last opportunity to explain himself.

“What were you thinking? She cares about you more than she admits. You had no right to disrespect all of that. Remember, there are very few people who find love, despite everything. You had a chance and you destroyed it yourself. And did you know what she told me in spite of how much you hurt her?” Karan was enraged now. “It makes me want to go back to the part of my life when I never met you and keep things that way.” He walked over and stood next to Karthik, and demanded a response. “I don’t deserve someone as good as Sam, Karan. She accepted me with my flaws, and it made me think I had everything. I stopped caring about everything else. She loved me for what I was, for what I could become, and I decided to let go of everything I was, for her. If this had continued, we would be left with nothing but unfulfilled dreams and false hopes. I have to become a better person who is worthy of her.” Karthik almost broke down. He dug his face into his palms for a while.

“We both had dreams, Karan,” he continued. “We had our separate futures planned. Although I screwed up, she didn’t. Yet, she doesn’t want to pursue her dreams. She says she wants to be with me, till I figure my life out. Today, she is willing to let go of all of her dreams just for me, and no matter how much she disagrees, we both know that is the truth. I cannot be selfish to let her sacrifice her dreams because I need support. She will be hurt for a while, but that is the right thing to do. The faster she lets go of me, the better she can work towards her dreams. I will repair my life soon, but she already has it sorted. Out of some misguided sense of guilt, she doesn’t want to pursue them, leaving me behind. If I let her stay, that would be doing injustice to her. I would really be glad if she supported me through it all, but she thinks the only way to do that would be by killing her own dreams. I can’t let her do that. She has always been my inspiration. It isn’t fair to me or her that I am nothing more than the chains that keep her from making her dreams come true. If she keeps stepping back on her future because of my decisions, neither of us is going to move forward. It was my fault that all of this happened. And she doesn’t deserve this me. I’ll have to become the man I have dreamt of before I win her back. And it may take a while, but if fate wants it to happen, I’ll find her again.” Karan had seen a different Karthik that day. In fact, he had seen a different perspective of life. Separation didn’t always mean betrayal. It meant to give the other person an opportunity to continue with their life, to make sure that our own crooked and broken lives did not damage someone else’s life. Karthik could have come to terms with his fate about his mistakes, and move on with the fact that Sameera was there with him. But, he chose to let her take her path to destiny, while he repaired his. Karan had treated him as a friend until now, because Karthik had been one of the two people to consider his feelings and understand them without Karan having to say it out. But that day, looking at the seriousness and sensitivity Karthik had, he was sure he hadn’t made a mistake by standing with him. Karan decided to keep the promise he had made to Sameera.

Over the next four years, Karan saw a massive change in Karthik’s attitude. Within a year, he turned the tables. The seriousness he carried with himself about his life, career or profession was far more than Karan had ever seen. He put his mind and soul into his job, while working nights with Karan to set up Pegasus Inc. His marketing strategy was one of the best Karan had seen. Karthik decided to pull some long term risks under his own name so that Karan could scale Pegasus faster. Within a year, he got into the business school he wanted to study in. He spent two years abroad, putting all his focus into business studies and literature. And while still in Business School, he focused on Venture Capitalism and made tremendous growth. He was warm and friendly, unlike Karan. He didn’t have to be ruthless and cold to get his way. As an investor and financial advisor for Pegasus, Karthik accompanied Karan initially to a lot of meetings, and would prevent Karan from lashing out. Sometimes, Karan would get the feeling that he was being too distracted in life when he worked with Karthik. He had never mentioned Sameera’s name in the last four years, but Karan knew she was the only reason he worked tirelessly and relentlessly. He knew Sameera was Karthik’s pillar of strength and motivation. He soon became successful as he had planned before, and now dreamt of moving things forward with Sameera. But behind his relaxed exterior, the possibility of Sameera having moved on was Karthik’s biggest fear, making his nights sleepless, and his hopes endless.

“I spoke to her, Karan. I would have known if she had moved on,” Karthik seemed confident. “However you see it fit, my friend. Nothing makes me happier than you finding your love back,” Karan patted him on his shoulders.

“When will you learn to accept it, Karan?” Karthik asked. “Accept what?” Karan didn’t like the direction the conversation was heading. “Accept that, Surbhi is the one for you. The sooner you accept her, the better it is. My life had to go through all that, because I started out too early. I won’t say that I was right or wrong to be in a relationship when I had hardly seen life, but I can tell you that age was against me. If it wasn’t someone as mature as Sam, I would have broken down completely. But, you have age on your side. You have accomplished everything you wanted to. You are doing great at sustaining things too. You can deal with everything better. And you are far more mature than both me and Sam. This is the right time to fill the voids, and finally move on with a new life you can make for yourself.”

“Who should move on with their new life?” Surbhi walked into the office. Karan and Karthik turned around, startled by Surbhi’s voice. “No one,” Karan tried to cover up. “Ms. Kapoor, may I know what you are doing in my office? I did tell you to take rest at home. You have the habit of never listening to good advice, do you?”

“Calm down, Mr. Singhania, you don’t have to turn hostile just because I overheard the last bit of your conversation. I was here to drop a few papers Prasad was looking for, which you left at home. He said he would send someone, but I said I would drop it personally so that I can come out of your figurative prison,” Surbhi dropped a couple of files on Karan’s table and walked over to Karthik. “Hey, I am Surbhi Kapoor, currently Mr. Singhania’s guest. I wouldn’t have taken the liberty to walk myself in if you were having a business conversation. I’m assuming you must be a personal acquaintance of Mr. Singhania,” Surbhi reached out her hand to Karthik. As they shook hands, Surbhi received a call, “I’m sorry, I have to attend this. I’ll get back to you in a minute.” She turned around to talk to her sister over the voice call.

“Wow, Karan. She seems to be really cool. She has the audacity to talk to you like that in front of your business partner. I don’t get why you wouldn’t agree to move things forward with her,” Karthik whispered to Karan. Karan shot him a dirty look and signalled him to shut up. “Although, I really like how she said she is ‘currently’ your guest.” “You really need to shut up,” Karan said in a muffled voice. The call went on for a while and Karan and Karthik kept exchanging glances. After Surbhi was done with the call, she turned back. Karthik reached out his hand again. “Hello, Ms. Kapoor. You can call me Karthik. I’m sure you haven’t heard of me from Karan, just as I haven’t heard about you.”

“Oh, he rarely tells me anything about himself. How on earth could I imagine him talking to me about his friends? By the way, call me Surbhi. Everyone does, except for some. Mr. Singhania, would you mind introducing us to each other?” She smirked at Karan. Karan stood between the two. “As we have already established,” Karan pointed his hands at Surbhi and Karthik. “This is Ms. Surbhi Kapoor, Ma’s guest from New York City. She’s a pretty good programmer, but I like to think that she has graduated in the art of speaking too much.” Surbhi rolled her eyes as Karan continued, “This is Karthik, my childhood friend. He is an unofficial financial advisor to my company. He claims he is a Venture Capitalist, but also writes a lot of fancy stories.”

“Wow, that’s something new. So, do you write fiction?” Surbhi wanted to know more about Karan’s friend, who seemed to be the exact opposite of what Karan appeared to her. “Don’t believe everything he says.  His words are often misleading,” Karthik replied. “Yeah, I know. He never says what he means,” Surbhi looked at Karthik, giving a sideward look at Karan. She finally turned to Karan. “Anyway, I’ll see you around this evening, Mr. Singhania. Karthik, it’s been nice to meet you.” She shook hands again, before leaving. “It’s been a pleasure to meet you too, ma’am. I was about to leave too. Why don’t I escort you down to the lobby?” Karthik returned the favour. Surbhi nodded politely in agreement. He turned to Karan, “I think I’ll leave.” The friends met in a warm embrace. As they hugged, Karan whispered, “Don’t pull any tricks on the way down. I’ll know if you do. Also, good luck with Sameera. It’ll be good to meet, the three of us.”

“Let’s make it the four of us, and you have a deal. I’m sure Sam would like to meet Karan’s girl.” Karthik’s last words made Karan’s cheeks a pale shade of red, although one could observe it only painstakingly. Karthik picked up his file, and his light grey coat and walked over to the door and held it open for Surbhi. She was in awe of how similar Karthik was to Karan, but equally opposite and contradicting.

Later that evening, as Karan opened the door to his home, a fresh pleasant aroma he recognised, but couldn’t quite guess what exactly it was. It took him a while to register that Surbhi and Neha were in some kind of rush to even notice Karan. Choosing not to disturb them, Karan walked into his room, and changed his clothes. He wore a plain white shirt, sleeves folded, and a pair of grey trousers. He sat down on his bed with his laptop and immersed himself in some office work. After going through a certain services contract with a Norwegian client, Karan decided to look up his schedule for the next day. Just then, he heard a knock. “Yes, come in,” he said, looking up.

Surbhi slowly opened the door with a tray in her hand. Karan was puzzled, looking at her. He shut his laptop, and kept it on the table by the couch as he walked up to the door. There was a bowl with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, a slice of seemingly Red-Velvet cake that was more brownish with marginal hints of red. “What is this?” Karan was surprised to find all of that in Surbhi’s hands. “Well, that’s two birds at one shot,” Surbhi replied quickly, as though she was prepared for that question. “Do we discuss everything by your door, or can I walk in too?”

“You never asked permission to walk into my room before. Why now?” Karan thought. “Did you just say something, Mr. Singhania?” asked Surbhi, as though she just heard him mutter something under his breath. “No, of course not,” Karan quickly replied, in an almost terrified tone, worrying if he was thinking too loud. “Yeah, we wouldn’t have been discussing permissions if you were able to speak what was on your mind,” Surbhi thought, rolling her eyes. “Did you just say something, Ms. Kapoor?” Karan asked, as though he just heard her mutter something under her breath. “No, of course not,” Surbhi replied quickly, wondering if she was a tad too loud with her thoughts.

Karan moved aside and held the door open for Surbhi to walk in. He waited for her to go settle down on the couch. He prayed that she didn’t land the tray on the couch. Thankfully she didn’t, and waited for Karan to come over. He pushed the door, but didn’t bolt it, and left it ajar to let Shalini and Neha know that they could come in unannounced. Surbhi thought it was all a very sweet joke that Karan followed protocols even in his own home. He walked over to the couch and sat down opposite to Surbhi, folding one knee on the couch, taking care not to let his foot touch the couch and the other leg rest on the ground. “What is it, Ms. Kapoor?” Karan asked. “Well, this is both a gesture to thank you, for listening to my wishes and taking care of me, and a way to complete my challenge. Remember you were supposed to eat the Red Velvet I make?”

“You don’t give up, do you?” Karan smiled, shaking his head. “Not a chance,” Surbhi winked at him, biting her lip. “So, am I supposed to judge this dish and compare it against the one I brought you?” Karan shut his eyes in disbelief at how seriously Surbhi took the most unimportant things of life. “Yeah, pretty much. And maybe after that, you can verbally acknowledge that I make the best Red Velvet,” Surbhi set the tray aside and picked up the bowl, and handed it to Karan along with a fork. “It looks like the cake is slightly overburnt on the bottom. I’m not sure how well that is going to work for you,” Karan smiled, taking the bowl and fork from her. “What? Oh damn!” Surbhi was almost terrified. “I thought I scraped it off the cake before frosting it. It would have got stuck on the underneath by mistake. Wait, I’ll get you a clean one.” She reached out to snatch the bowl from him.

Taking the bowl aside, away from her reach, he said, “No way. This is MY overburnt brownie.”

“What?” Surbhi asked, confused as to why Karan would call that a brownie. “Nothing,” Karan said, shaking his head with a gentle smile, and took a small bite of the Red Velvet with vanilla ice cream.

To be continued…

Karthik K R

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