Rafiq and Gayathri 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 may be even intimacy. Love doesn't look at logic, or at backgrounds and least of all, religion.
Gayathri was from a very conservative South Indian family that went to a temple every Saturday.
Rafiq bought goats for his family every Eid.
That said it all. Their path would never have crossed if it hadn't been for that fateful day. That day when both of them walked into the coffee shop.
"A coffee break, Gayu?"
Gayathri was hesitant… Medha would walk into the CCD and It's difficult to tell her about Gayathri's monetary condition.
Medha kept on talking… "Yesterday, I managed to get a lot of money from my brother. Come, it will be my treat."
Gayathri breathed a sigh of relief.
"Okay, next time it will be me, paying," she smiled sweetly.
CCD was crowded. Some kind of celebration was on. As they turned around to leave, a tall, fair guy walked in.
"Are you leaving, haven't you come for a cup of coffee? You can have it free of cost." he winked.
Medha was excited. "How?"
"Just register your name for the coffee contest, and it's done... simple."
Medha grasped Gayathri's hand and dragged her in.
"Not me Medha, please... You go ahead."
Medha was escorted in. A very shaky Gayathri couldn't move out though she wanted to.
"Why aren’t you going in?"
Gayathri looked up, lowered her eyes and nodded… no. She was awkward on her feet and kept wiping her face with a handkerchief.
"I don't think it's that hot here, come with me."
He stretched out his hand. Now Gayathri started adjusting her dupatta. She didn't look at that fellow.
Friends... please take your seats. The KOFITEST is going to begin shortly. Our honourable judges are here...
With a sudden pull Gayathri was dragged towards a corner table and was shoved down on the seat. She looked up but he was gone. She felt all eyes on her and she started shivering… it was cold. She tried concentrating on the menu card.
"Here is your coffee."
He pushed a tall glass towards her. He had a cup before him.
"I thought you were feeling hot... cool yourself down and please think of me as a friend."
Gayathri looked up at the most handsome man she had ever seen. She tried to smile.
Medha came running. "Ohh Gayu, you won't believe! I have secured the third position."
She vanished immediately before Gayathri could congratulate her, she was nervous. Where has Medha gone... I have to return home, it's late.
Mr. Rafiq Patel is requested to kindly give away the prizes…
A beautiful girl approached their table and caught hold of his hand. He smiled at Gayathri, gestured at her to wait and disappeared. Gayathri tried to follow them and reached an open terrace.
So, he is Rafiq Patel. She overheard some giggling girls…
"He is the owner of Patel Life Line."
"Ohhhh, he's so handsome!"
"He has organised this competition…"
Gayathri's eyes widened.
Medha received her prize, waved at Gayathri and vanished from the sight again. Gayathri looked worried.
"Don't worry, I am here." Gayathri shuddered as Rafiq touched her shoulder, he led her to his car.
"I can go by myself, you needn't worry."
"Oh my! The princess can talk." Rafiq chuckled. Gayathri smiled back.
He opened the door of his car courteously to let Gayathri in. She was scared… If anyone sees me with him… She started sweating.
"Just drop me on the M G Road, near the Big Bazaar."
"Would you not call me for a cup of coffee?"
Gayathri looked puzzled.
"Don't worry, I am just kidding."
That night, Gayatri couldn't sleep properly. Rafiq kept on coming to her dreams. She woke up with a heavy head.
Gayatri couldn't remember her mother well... she was brought up by her grandmother. She remembered the day when granny told her, "Your mamma is in the hospital, papa will bring her home, today."
Gayathri was so excited.
Granny put her in a new frock. She flew like a butterfly all over the house. Papa returned home late with her mamma, clad in a beautiful red saree. Granny forwarded Gayu to her mamma. She stretched her hands and smiled at her.
No, no… she is not my mamma. They have all ditched me… Gayu has seen her photograph.
She spent her night on the terrace looking at the star granny showed her… "That’s your mamma. Papa has brought a new mamma for you, she will love you as much."
Granny left her soon too, to be all by herself.
Gayathri wondered… if destiny chose our loved ones for us... did we have any role to play at all?
Medha was looking for Gayathri in the college, she looked so charged.
"You know Gayu, they took us for dinner to the Novotel. You know who the chief guest was? Guess, guess! Sanjeev Kapoor."
They approached the canteen and ordered sandwich and coffee.
Medha’s phone rang. She looked worried as she talked. She handed the phone over to Gayathri and smiled.
Gayathri was hesitant…"who's that?"
"What should I address you as? I didn't even ask your name yesterday. Can you recognise me? I am Rafiq."
The phone slipped out of Gayatri's hand, but it was saved as it dropped on Medha’s lap.
"What happened, who's it?"
The phone rang again. Medha talked for a long time and passed the phone over to Gayathri.
"It's the guy we met yesterday… he wants to talk to you."
Gayathri took the phone quietly from her friend.
"Can you hear me, why are you not replying? Please give me your number so I can talk to you."
Gayathri handed the phone back to Medha and walked out of the canteen.
Gayathri had books in front of her, but she was looking out of the window. Her mind was wandering somewhere else, with Rafiq.
The phone rang and Gayathri shivered. She was sure it was him. She put her phone on silent mode. It started vibrating now. She looked at the door, it was closed. She lifted it to answer.
"Are you Gayathri? Why aren't you answering my call? I want to see you, it's urgent. Please say something. I am sure you are nodding."
Gayathri smiled. "Yes."
"What yes, will you meet me?"
There was a lump in her throat. She couldn't say more.
"Okay, I will talk to you tomorrow. Save my number."
Gayathri put off the light and went to bed. She wanted Rafiq to come to her dream… is it love, is this called love at first sight? After granny had left her, she had never realised love.
"Medha would you mind lending me some money, I couldn't ask papa today."
"Yes, how much do you want?"
"Give me a hundred…"
"Bass! Have you spent all your pocket money?"
How could Gayathri explain to her that she had never received any pocket money from papa… maa had never allowed him to. Sometimes, nanny had asked for some and gave her… otherwise if papa was kind enough to give something on his own…
"Can you arrange some tuitions for me, Medha?"
Medha was sad. She loved her quiet friend… she could read the desperation in Gayathri's eyes.
"Yes, I will try." And she suppressed her sigh.
Rafiq was there with his car. Gayathri told Medha that she was going out with Rafiq.
"I am worried about you Gayu. What do you know about him? I have heard that he's a nice guy… but still…"
"I have to go, Medha."
Medha found a different Gayathri. She hugged her.
"May God be with you!"
The car stopped in front of a medical shop. Rafiq asked her to wait and went in.
Gayathri read… PATEL LIFE LINE.
He came back in a while and started driving. They were out of the crowded city now. She could feel Rafiq's eyes on her.
"Will you not talk to me, or you don't ever talk?"
Gayathri wanted to touch his hand… but she only looked at him.
"I have to go back early."
"Yes, that I know. Say something different. Who's there at home?"
"I lost my mom when I was very young. My dad got married again. They have a son, but maa never allows him to come near me." Gayathri's eyes started itching. She tried hard to hide her tears. Rafiq was sad.
"I am the only child of my parents. They are very loving. We have our family business but I have my own love, painting."
They reached a lovely bungalow with a beautiful garden.
"You are welcome to my very personal place, my worship house."
Gayathri was amazed to step into the studio, full of paintings… oil, watercolours, crayons… scattered here and there. Some paintings were on the easels, half done. A covered painting on an easel attracted Gayathri. She wanted to see it. She couldn't find Rafiq in the room and was hesitant to touch it in his absence. As she stretched her hands out to it, she smelt Rafiq’s presence very close to her. His tall, strong, masculine body touched her petite one. She blushed.
Both of them uncovered the painting together, it was a nude painting, half done. Gayathri was embarrassed. She couldn't look at Rafiq.
"Look at it Gayatri, there's nothing to be ashamed of... it's natural. We embrace abnormality when we unnecessarily cover ourselves. Think of the prehistoric age."
"It's late Rafiq, please drop me home today. I will come again."
"I think I am in love... Medha. I love his company so much."
"Do you know he is a Muslim? Will your staunch Brahmin father accept him?"
"I am not thinking so far till now."
"Be careful! Your father will kill both of you."
"Do you think I am alive, Medha?" Gayathri replied with a sad smile.
"Why don't you complete that painting?"
I have to, I have an exhibition but…
"The model working for me stopped coming midway and I couldn't find another, though I am ready to offer good money."
"You mean… you require live models, err… nude ones?"
"Of course yes. It's difficult only in our country… nobody cares about it abroad. Have you heard about Sanatan Dinda of Kolkata?"
"He's a body painter, an acclaimed artist, now working in Paris. He faced a lot of negative criticism in India as Body Art requires nude bodies."
"You must have heard of Ravi Varma, the greatest artist of all times."
"Yes, I have seen some of his paintings."
He was penalised for painting nudes and his love, who modelled for him committed suicide."
"So... what now? Do you want me to model for you?"
"Would you Gayathri? You have the perfect curves to be a nude model."
"I love you Rafiq, I can even die for you. I don't know what’s there in God’s mind… but I can at least help you, to become another Ravi Verma."
Rafiq hugged her. Gayathri kissed him deeply and buried her face in his chest.
Gayathri was waiting for Rafiq in the art library, going through books to know more about nude modelling though she had already started working. She looked at her watch. Rafiq was late. They met every Thursday at five p.m. 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. They would never understand. And yet Rafiq made her happy. Suddenly her phone beeped.
He had sent a message…
"On my way. Have something important to tell you."
Gayathri stared at it and realised she had knots in her stomach. Thoughts flooded her mind. What would he want to tell her?
Gayathri remembered her first day as a model. Rafiq was so helpful, so patient. He explained to her the pros and cons of nude modelling. He helped her undress. She couldn't even open her eyes. As days passed, she became easy.
"Here's your remuneration." Rafiq passed an envelope.
"Do you think I am a professional! I would sell my body to earn money?"
"Of course you are. Don't ever let people exploit you."
Gayatrhi's eyes were full of tears.
"Don't… don't do this to me please…"
Rafiq caressed her, wiped her tears and whispered, "May our love be immortal…"
The familiar honking of Rafiq's car brought Gayathri back to reality, she rushed out.
"What happened?" Rafiq smiled.
They entered the riverside cafe and occupied a window seat.
The Sun was about to set. It spread its rosy delight to turn the world into a dreamy one.
Gayathri looked at Rafiq eagerly… he kissed her palms.
"Did you talk to your father Tri? It's time… we should be together."
"I didn't dare to, he will kill both of us… he hates Muslims."
Rafiq's face paled.
"I have talked to my parents…"
A very agitated voice interrupted, "And what did they say?"
"I fail to understand, why can't two adults decide their future? We have different beliefs… you go to temple, I will go to the mosque… but we will celebrate Eid and Diwali together…"
"What did your Ammi say Rafu, will she accept me?"
"No Tri, she won't. She has asked me to choose between you and her… I have chosen you, my love." He tightened his grip on her. I have left my home, we have to look for a dwelling as the studio is my Abbu's property."
Rafiq had never experienced such an outburst in Gayathri.
"Take me to Ammi."
They drove down to Rafiq's place. His Ammi was furious.
"I had asked you to leave that whore Rafu, you are too naive to understand that she's only after your money. That bitch would suck your blood and dump you to see the fun."
Gayathri took a little time to calm herself, wiped her tears and went near Ammi. She bent down, touched her feet and said, "Ammi, I know how it feels to lose one's mother. I would never let that happen to Rafiq. I love him. You have given birth to him, nurtured him… it's you Ammi who has all right over him."
She ran out of the house.
Gayathri was at the staircase of the studio. She was thinking about her father.
Maa was violent on her late return the previous night. She started shouting.
"Why did you come back, didn't that haramkhor give you food and shelter?"
Her drunk father came out of his room and slapped her. He pulled her by her hair and threw her out of the house.
"You slut, how dare you enter my house. Go stand by the road to earn money, your nude pictures are all over the market, you will get a good price for your body… Shiva! Shiva!"
She was awakened by the soft touch of Rafiq.
"Rafiq, I want to work as a nude model, would you please help?"
Gayathri was desperate.
Gayathri turned to find Rafiq's Ammi… Abbu standing there.