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Loves comes to those who believe it

Nooreen Dossa

Chapter - I

It was a beautiful morning but Nandini was feeling uneasy. She was late for her first lecture, so she took a quick shower and tied her long hair into a bun. Nandani had missed her bus so she decided to sprint her way to the university. She had never been late for a lecture and her professor’s admired her for her integrity. She was an asset to her classmates, after all, she always shared her notes with them.

Working late hours and sleeping for barely three hours at night had become a routine now. But last night was different. Like every other night, she came home at 2:30 am and was in bed by 3:00 am. But she just couldn't sleep. Her mind was not at peace and kept wandering. No, it wasn’t the night when she had her first kiss. It was not even the night when she tried doing something wild. Nandani was twenty-one and super mature for her age. She had seen a world that was far beyond the imagination of any young girl.

Nandini entered the class with her head down. Her almond shaped deep black eyes which usually looked peaceful and calm looked distracted and guilty. She was distracted because of the thoughts that had been bothering her all through the night and guilty because she was not on time for class. The teacher inquired “Is everything alright? She had never seen her favourite student look so pale. Nandini looked at her professor and explained that she was down with fever but didn't want to miss class.

Nandini was studying law and enjoyed her subjects. She was in her first year and wanted to study criminal law. Nandini always stood out among her group as she was 5 feet 7 inches attractively tall for an average Indian girl. Her classmates called her Madhubala (legendary film actress from the yester years) because of her beautiful and arresting smile. Always dressed in a simple full sleeve kurta with jeans, she could hardly hide her slim yet curvy body behind her loose clothes.

Today was a day when she was supposed to stay back after class and work on an assignment with her classmates, but she excused herself and went home.

Nandini lived with her brother Kunal and the munchkin was capable of driving any sane person crazy. Nandini had her way with him; she was as wild as him and she enjoyed that chaos. Her kid brother called her 'Wow Didi' after she taught him to shout out, 'WOW every time he enjoyed a game.

But today was just not her day. As the day went on she was feeling more and more tired. She was mentally and emotionally exhausted. "Why can't I stop thinking about him? He is obviously not the first man who has ever shown interest in me."

She reached home, it was almost time for the sun to set, so she fixed dinner for her baby brother.

While she was cooking and cleaning she was also mentally preparing herself for next duty.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
     
 

Chapter - II

"I am yet to come across a name board which says - DANCE BAR"

She checked into the venue of her evening job. Went back stage and got dressed in a net saree with heavy embroidery, lots of make-up and flowers in her hair.

Along a row of shops was a small door, wooden and carved, with an innocuous signboard which said Lotus Restaurant and Bar. The doorman opened the door for Nandini. She smiled at the two uniformed bouncers who stood at the entrance. She walked inside to the soft thump of Hindi film music which suddenly became loud. The sound-proofed corridor opened into the innards of the darkened dance bar.

Many dance bars double up as pick-up joints and a front for prostitution. At the end of the day's business, the shower money is divided between the dancer and the management in a preset ratio. Usually, it is 40% for the dancer and 60% for the bar. The ratio varies across bars.

Most girls at the bar are pushed into this profession due to lack of education and other skills needed to earn a livelihood.

Chapter - III

This particular bar was a hub of girls who were victims of a tragic and dreadful day in the history of mankind which had changed their lives forever.

24th December 2004, the month and year that will be remembered by many people across the world. A single day that destroyed many lives. A single day that orphaned many children. A single day that widowed many women. A single day that changed Nandini's life. This earthquake in the Indian Ocean affected various countries in South Asia. Over a thousand people were killed in tidal waves in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Tamil Nadu was one of the most distressed states with over 800 killed. At least 350 people had been confirmed dead in Tamil Nadu with over 100 people dead in Chennai alone.

Nandini was at school that time while her parents were at home. She was completely shattered to come back home to discover that her parents were one of those 100's who had become victims of the assassin waves. Her parents had been taken away by the dreadful waves. Nandini and Kunal were at the mercy of her maternal uncle who shipped her off to Mumbai and asked her to meet Birju, the manager of Lotus Bar.

Nandini was only fifteen; she needed to take care of her brother and also wanted to complete her education. She succumbed to the option of dancing in a bar, without realising that it involved sex work. She had managed to escape that route till the ban on dance bars was introduced. She continued working in the bar and soliciting with the hope of securing her dream job in a law firm after completing her Bachelors in Law.

At this juncture, it is important to mention that by this time the government had already announced a ban on dance bars, for propagating obscenity. Having lost their only source of income bar girls knocked at the doors of the National Council for Women but in vain. In a single stroke, this decision deprived 75,000 bar girls and three lakh male bar workers of their only source of livelihood, stated the petition given to the commissions by the representatives of the Bharatiya Bar Girls Union.

The dance bars continued to operate under the disguise of service bars, where girls only serve drinks. Till date these bars operate as spots for solicitation.

 
     
 

The Reunion

The man who was making Nandini restless was Ravi.

Ravi had a persona that would make heads turn. He would enter a room and simply own the space. He was six feet tall with an athletic body and a tan that made him look very tough and adventurous. He was in his late twenties, loved the outdoors and always enjoyed tasks that allowed him to travel around the city. He had a bike and like most men he enjoyed sprinting and trying stunts with his engine. This geek who loved the outdoors had spent his entire adolescence and most part of his youth in front of the computer. He loved creating and cracking codes and had bagged himself his dream job at Amazon in Seattle, USA. This 'nerd' - that is what his friends called him, had never dated a girl or for that matter never even thought of going out with one.

Ravi grew up in a very secular family in Mumbai. After studying to be an engineer he continued to live in Mumbai and started applying for jobs. His decision to move overseas was not just for a better quality of life. It was his childhood dream to work in the land of the geeks.

A year after working in a software company in Mumbai Ravi got his big break and moved to the US. Ravi's parents continued to live in Mumbai and visited him in the States almost every year. His visit to Mumbai after several years was only for his friend. It was their wolf pack. He and his geeky gang had promised each other one night of endless fun before one of them tied the knot.

It was the night when he was going to meet his three friends with whom he had spent every single day of his life while he was in Mumbai studying to be an engineer. This reunion after five years was Ravi's first evening at this notorious hangout. It was his best friend's bachelor's party and the gang of boys decided to celebrate the groom's last night as a bachelor at Lotus Bar.

The chamber welcomed them with a deafening noise. Once they had adjusted their eyes to the darkness, they found themselves standing at one end of an atrium, with reclining sofas and seats spread close to the walls, a dance floor in the middle and girls and women "dancing".

The seats were strategically closer to the dance floor for a better view of the dancers. In any case, it didn't matter where the guests were seated, because so long as their pockets were stuffed with cash, the dancer would go to him.

The three friends sat on one of the sofas amongst the customers. The crowd included teenagers trying hard to look like grown-ups and fifty-plus men who were dressed in bright satin shirts trying to look like film actors. The audience was overwhelmingly male and they showered money on the dancers.

The performing girls and women were clad in traditional ghagra cholis and navel-revealing skirts, low-cut blouses and colourful accessories. Most of the women just moved their hips and bodies and pretended like they were dancing. The more they tried to make it better, the fake it looked.

"I seriously think someone should research on the psychology of the money shower."

A young man signalled a girl to come over, held her hand, and showered a few 100 rupee notes on her. He looked thrilled and pleased with himself. A man in his late sixties asked the dancers to come and sit with them and chat. After a few seconds of introduction, the man took the girl with him and they left the bar.

Ravi and his friends had been to strip clubs in the States and the United Kingdom but this place felt very wrong. They left the bar in less than an hour and the party continued at Rahul's place. The wedding was after four days and Rahul's family had made stay arrangements for all the wedding guests.

After a long session of drinking and aimless jokes, the three friends finally started talking about their love lives. Rahul's fairy tale romance with Kiran was no secret. They were childhood sweethearts who had studied together from kindergarten to high school. While Rahul studied machines, Kiran decided to pursue her social sciences. She was dedicated to the cause of girls’ education.

Shashank who lived in London spoke about his long-distance romance with a girl from Mumbai who he had recently met on shaadi.com. He said, "She is everything I have ever wanted. She is beautiful, smart, has a great sense of humour and is very sensitive". Shashank always wanted to marry a fellow software engineer as he found tech savvy women very appealing. Shaadi.com proved to be the perfect place to search for a beautiful woman who shared the same love for coding software programmes. Shashank announced that he was excited about meeting her during this trip and was planning to introduce her to his family as well. He very happily called it a love marriage that had been arranged by a highly efficient website.

Shashank was next in line to host a celebration. Ravi listened to his friend's talk about their sweethearts. He wondered when he would meet his partner for life. Unlike Shashank, Ravi was not clear about the attributes of his potential soul mate. Until...

 

Chapter - IV

Nandini reached the bus stop, like every morning and was petrified. She saw a man from the bar waiting there. He was an eerie looking guy; unusually thin, dark and his teeth were stained due to excessive chewing of tobacco. This man in his late fifties was a regular at the bar. He had tried to grab Nandini at the bar the previous night, but the bouncers came to her rescue. But today there was no one at the bus stop to come to help her. She ignored him and continued waiting for her bus. He kept staring at her and she could feel her heart in her mouth. There was no one at the bus stop and that made it even worse. He walked towards her and was blocking her way out. Nandini flinched and tried to run away. She had to call out for help.

Ravi was out for a jog that time. He was treading along the pavement on the other side of the road near the bus stop. He heard Nandini's call for help. This IT guy had never learnt any form of self-defense or karate moves at the engineering school or otherwise. But, when he saw Nandini in danger, he knew he had to help. The perpetrator was slightly intimidated when he saw Ravi walking towards them, but he did not let go. Ravi decided to be calm and keep the man busy with conversation. He started by saying that he was looking for a bus stop that would take him to Andheri station. Meanwhile, he did what he always did during most of his office meetings. He sent a text message to Rahul, "Come to the bus stop".

In less than 5 minutes, the three boys gathered around the bus stop and the thin ugly man had to leave.

Rahul was his usual over friendly self. He asked Nandini where she was off to and offered her a ride to college. Nandini thanked them, took the next bus and left.

Ravi felt a sense of achievement. He was happy with his act of courage and his final success at saving a woman. At night, he kept thinking about what happened that morning and also about Nandini. Her pretty and innocent face kept appearing in front of his eyes. He couldn't stop thinking about her long untied hair that fell upon her eyes and her glittering silver earings.

Chapter - V

"Looking at your eyes, that's exactly where the real beauty lies"

The next morning was a beautiful new day. Ravi walked out in his exercise gear and jogged straight to the bus stop. There she was, standing pretty in a rose pink salwar kameez. Her expressive eyes filled with kohl looked slightly scared. She saw Ravi from a distance and then she knew she was safe. Ravi went to the bus stop and stood there. They smiled at each other and after ten minutes of silence, our man finally spoke. He noticed she was carrying books, so it was best to initiate a conversation with the simple - "so what are you studying?" After exchanging few sentences, they realised that they had a lot in common. They were both born on the 1st of April and had always been victims of the same jokes on the 'great fools' day'.

Nandini's bus came and she left. Ravi was tempted to ask for her number but refrained. He knew he could meet her at the same place again tomorrow and that was good enough for him.

Nandini was at the bar that night and the ugly thin man was there again, staring at her…. Nandini hid behind a pillar to escape his eyes. Muskaan asked her, "why are you hiding here"? Nandini replied, "I am scared of that man. The way he looks at me worries me". Muskaan comforted her with a hug and they got back to work.

Zeenat Aman's film songs were very popular in Lotus Bar. Nandini performed her most popular moves on "Laila main laila, aisi hoon laila" This was a number which was played around 12:00 am to make the guest stay for another hour.

She looked at everyone in the audience, asking them with her eyes if they were having a good time. Every thrust of her pelvis made the throng cheer and shower money on her.

The day ended and Nandini was in bed, thinking about the eventful day and most essentially her encounter with Ravi. She smiled and slept with the hope to see him again.

Chapter - VI

Ravi was at Rahul's wedding ceremony. He looked at Rahul and Kiran exchange wedding vows and amidst the crowd of people, Ravi found himself smiling. There was a different sort of feeling within him. He wished Nandini was there with him. He wanted to enjoy this union of two souls along with the girl who had stolen his heart.

Ravi had never experienced this euphoria. His friends had caught him several times staring into space and smiling to himself. Rahul teased, "looks like our friend is in love, Ravi, have you finally reached puberty, hahahaha".

The next morning was their second date. She kept looking at her watch, eagerly looking in his direction. There was no promise to meet again or wait for each other but Nandini had already missed two buses. Ravi arrived just two minutes before the third bus and Nandini had to take that one as she had no actual reason to miss her ride. She didn't want him to know that she was waiting for him.

Ravi cursed himself and the alarm and then walked back home, disappointed and irritated with himself. He was going to be in Mumbai for another week and he wanted to tell Nandini how he felt.

So he decided; next morning would be the day of confession.

Ravi walked to the bus stop and handed her a book. It was a copy of their favourite novel, 'Love Story' - by Eric Segal. He asked her to read the first page of the book which said,

"Get tongue tied, can't look at you in the eye and all sorts of stupid things. But at the end, love it all and must tell you how I feel. I wish you will do this to me until I grow old too. I love you now and forever".

Nandini didn't know what to say or how to react. She could see, that her beautiful dream was about to end. She wanted to continue dreaming. She didn't want to wake up. She didn't want to reciprocate his affection without telling him her complete truth. He was standing right in front of her, just a few feet apart, not able to take his gaze off her. His eyes looking intently into hers, filled with questions and an unusual affection that she was not able to comprehend. While the moment lasted for a few seconds she felt as if it has been long enough and she moved away and got into her bus.

 

 

Chapter  - VII

The next morning Nandini was sitting in class and thinking about Ravi. She wanted to tell him how she felt about him, "he deserves to know the complete truth. But he will never accept me if he comes to know what I do." She kept thinking and finally decided to keep her nocturnal profession a secret.

That evening she went back to the bus stop,

The moment

She waited anxiously, her eyes straining....Every bus that dashed by was looked at with the most intoxicating mixture of nervousness and excitement. She didn't even know why! Why?!! WHY was she nervous? What was there to be nervous about? It wasn't as if she was meeting him for the first time (well    in some ways perhaps). A new friend, a new confidante and generally, a decent guy... that's all he was! And yet, her hands trembled, the extra-bright twinkle in the eyes, the care with which she had applied her makeup (and damn it... she never wore makeup otherwise. Atleast not to college) spoke an altogether different truth.

She shook her head, almost as if trying to wake herself up. "Time to pull yourself together", she spoke out aloud. Uh oh... the uncle passing by on his evening walk heard and gave her a weird look. She straightened her dupatta for the 100th time and sneaked a quick peek at herself in the mirror she normally carried in her bag. Her kaajal seemed fine. "Damn it!! Where was he??" The two minutes she had been waiting felt like years.

"Ok time to stop daydreaming and focus!" A stray line from a song from the opera, Jesus Christ Superstar floated into her mind (songs do tend to pick the most inopportune moments), "he's just a man... an ordinary man..." "So, what was the excitement about? Calm, cool, chill! Wait, is that him? Is it? Is it? IS IT?!!!!!!!!!"

Nope... She felt like a deflated balloon each time a she heard footsteps. "Forget it, why seem over-interested... Be cool.... Breathe...".

She heard a phone ringing in the distance and she almost jumped from the unexpected jingle. "It's him, Yippieee!!"

"Wait, did I just yell yippiee!?, I have to stop! Time for a quick makeup check again... yes yes, all in place! Almost time... Almost time... Almost time... Ok woman, calm down!!!"

And then she saw him ... Her heart feels like it was going to jump out of her chest it was thumping so hard! He walked towards her but she still couldn't look up. Closer and closer and closer... And then, he stopped....and her heartbeat almost stopped too! She slowly attempted to look at him, still...still    all she saw was an arm covered by a shirt and then his face.

With her eyes cast downwards. Now that the moment is so close, she didn't know what to do, where to look, what to say. The unease, more suitable to a teenager on her first date, crept into her. She was still stubbornly refusing to look up, but could already feel his eyes on her. His voice dragged her out of her thoughts.... Hi! And then... she looked up ....and straight into his warm, chocolate coloured eyes for the first time....And all wa won (or lost??).

After a few moments of silence, he moved close to her. “What! is he going to hug me?”. Their bodies pressed against each other, "He might just kiss me", but then he separated himself from the embrace. Intoxicated with his touch, she snapped out and asked him, "can we sit somewhere and talk?"

Chapter - VIII

Each day felt like a dream. Nandini would meet Ravi at the bus stop every morning. He would accompany her to the university and sometimes they would drive around the city. They were happy being in each others' company and wanted to spend maximum time with each other. With each day that Ravi's return date was coming close, Nandini kept reminding herself that her fairy tale romance was about to end.

She was not sure if he would maintain contact once he went back to the States or even come back to see her.

Often she would find herself, lost in her thoughts of a beautiful home with a window to the sea and a tiny little garden. She saw herself with Ravi in this house and painted a beautiful picture of both of them together.

Mixed emotions of joy and a sense of loss because he was going to leave soon started creeping in. She was also afraid of him discovering her secret. Nandini woke up every morning with a happy feeling and then would suddenly break into tears.

It was the seventh day since they had confessed love for each other and it was time for Ravi to leave. They met at the bus stop like every morning. Ravi looked unusually happy today. He started off by saying, "I am so excited the week is almost over and it is time for me to go back. Loads of work is waiting for me." She was confused and irritated. Didn't know how to react. She looked at him with anger and tears filled in her eyes. He snapped her out of it and said, "Hey don't cry, I was just  teasing you. I have postponed my tickets. Will stay another month, only for you."

Nandini's happiness knew no bounds. She jumped with joy and hugged him and this time, their lips did meet…

He held her hand and pulled her close, it was a touch she couldn't resist. His lips so close, a peck and then deeper....it was a touch she could not resist. This bonus month of togetherness was special. It was their chance to share their lives, their smiles and their laughs. Within their attraction and intimacy, they were pleased to find a friendship that only grew each day, it was their time to cherish and create new memories which they would treasure always. The closeness grew with every day and then again it was time to say goodbye.

Ravi left for the USA with the promise to come back after six months. By that time, Nandini would have completed her final exams. Nandini secretly hoped that Ravi would propose marriage, set her free and she and her brother would finally have a family.

 

Chapter - IX

Few nights before Ravi was supposed to leave he caught up with his friends and a few guys from the neighbourhood. One of them kept raving about his night at a club the day before, where he saw a gorgeous woman. He was totally smitten by her beauty and kept describing her body as if he had been fantasising about her. He said "she was a dancer at the bar if only I had the money to screw her. She was bloody expensive".

He then showed Ravi and the other guys a picture which he had clicked from his mobile. Ravi looked at the photograph and was dumbstruck. He was speechless to see Nandini in the photograph. He was silent for almost an hour and then asked his friend the name of the bar.

He strode straight to Lotus Bar and there she was! Nandini had seen Ravi enter the room and was trying hard to avoid eye contact, but didn't succeed. He saw her the minute he entered and was furious. He walked out of the bar. That night was hell for Nandini. She could see her beautiful dream turn into a nightmare. She wanted to cry but could not. She was on duty and needed to look pretty.

The next morning, Ravi was not at the bus stop. Her heart sank, "Its Over?"

Chapter - X

Every minute felt like a year and it had been a week of absolutely no contact. Ravi kept disconnecting Nandini's calls and was not ready for any explanation. Finally, a day before Ravi was supposed to leave, he called Nandini. He said he wanted to meet her for the last time before leaving and that he was doing this only for himself.

They met at a coffee shop near Nandini's University. He needed to know why she kept him in the dark. Nandini explained that she was ashamed of her reality and did not want to loose him. She told him about how she had lost her parents due to the killer waves and her reasons for this choice of vocation. She told him that she needed to fend for her brother.

She confided in him and told him about the night she reached Mumbai. Birju was her only contact in the metro city. He picked her up from the train station and took her and her brother home. The first few days were pleasant. Nandini was getting used to the house and the city. Birju would stay out all night and sleep all day.

Nandini started taking care of his house and one night when Birju returned from work, he barged into the room where Nandini was sleeping. Her younger brother was fast asleep, totally unaware of what his sister went through that night.

Birju asked Nandini to heat food for him and when she was in the kitchen he started making advances at her. He told her that he would make her a popular dancer if she made him happy. Nandini was scared. She cried, "I am not interested in becoming a dancer, please leave me alone". Birju was beyond explanation. He held Nandini by her waist. She tried to run but he was very brawny for her to break away from his grip.

Nandini's tears made Ravi's heart bleed. She didn't have to tell him that Birju had brutally molested her and made her surrender to working in a dance bar and also solicit clients for income to take care of her brother.

She was not able to look him in the eye while sharing the worse experience of her life with him. He was the first man she had ever loved and was petrified with the idea of losing him. He listened to her attentively and held her hand. Ravi felt sorry for her. "I wish I was there for you. I wish we had met when you reached Mumbai. I wish I could protect you."

Nandini felt a sense of comfort; she promised him that she would never hide anything from him. But she also told him that she had to continue doing this work till she was able to complete her studies and find a job.

Ravi couldn't wait any longer. He wanted to get Nandini out of the mess and in his opinion the only way to do that was to give his sincere love for her the seal of marriage. He didn't want to think of how his family or friends would react. But he knew that he wanted to spend his entire life with his princess.

Ravi looked into Nandini's eyes, and like most lovers do, he went on his knee and proposed marriage. "I have no ring but I couldn't wait for the perfect moment. I leave for the US this evening. I need some time to figure out a visa for you and Kunal. I will be back in six months."

Six months later....

Nandin's excitement knew no bounds. Her heart was jumping with joy and tears flowing from her eyes. He kissed her and said, "I take that as a yes".

Nandini and Ravi were declared man and wife!

 
 
 
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