Welcome to the neighbourhood!
Anita’s alarm rang at 6 am. Her hand wandered around on the side table in her sleep searching for the snooze button. A couple of minutes later it went off again. She opened one eye and stared at the clock trying to figure out the time.
Anita slowly sat up in bed and drank a glass of water. She thought to herself ‘a few more minutes won’t do any harm.’ and dived back into bed.
Suddenly, Anita woke up with fright as she heard the whistle of the pressure cooker. She jumped out of bed and rushed to the bathroom to take a shower and get ready for work. Another morning had gone to waste. Her morning sleep or so-called beauty sleep always won!
“Oh!! You’re awake!!” said Mummy Ji.
“Yes, Mummy Ji! Now don’t start again,” grumbled Anita.
“Don’t start what? I’ve not even uttered a word,” replied Mummy Ji giving her the look.
“I wake up early, prepare your breakfast and pack your lunch, and then I have to handle your mood! Thank god your brother doesn’t live with us and he stays in the hostel. I would have lost my mind if I had to handle the two of you.” she complained as she continued making gobi parathas.
Anita walked up to her mother and hugged her from behind and said, “I’m sorry! I’m just angry with myself. I didn’t go for a run today,” whined Anita.
“When last did you go for a run anyway? You need to get in shape beta, soon we have to start hunting for the perfect Munda (groom)!”
“Ufff! Don’t start! I’m not going to get fit because I need some dude to approve of my appearance. I’m not a cow who is on sale,” replied Anita.
“Oh, dear! You’re getting me all wrong! I just want you to be happy. For a woman, a wedding is one of the most important days of her life. We don’t know when it’s going to happen. But you need to exercise and be fit for yourself,” said Mummy Ji.
“Yeah ok, I guess you’re right, I’ll start from tomorrow. But I’m doing this for me. Not for anyone else.” said Anita.
Weeks went by, Anita spent her mornings in bed. She couldn’t care less about her so-called weight loss program her mother was dreaming about.
One fine morning something different happened. The alarm clock went off at 6 am. Anita turned it off and looked at the note by her bedside that said, ‘WAKE UP!’ She sat up and saw the bulletin board that was hung on the wall opposite her bed. It was full of notes pinned upon it. ‘Wake up!’ ‘Get Fit!’ ‘Go for a run!’ ‘It’s not or never!’ ‘You can do it!’
Anita jumped out of bed, got dressed, and went for a run. She had music blasting on her headphones as she jogged around the colony and headed towards the park.
As she got back, she saw a truck unloading carton boxes at the entrance of the building. She wondered what was going on. She thought of asking the driver, but before she could she saw a man step out of his Innova. He was well-built, tall, ruffled hair, unshaved, and he looked very sleepy.
Their eyes met and he brushed past Anita without saying a word. He stood in front of the elevators waiting for it to come as he kept fidgeting with his phone.
Anita took the stairs and let herself in. She found her mother standing in the balcony observing all the commotion downstairs.
“I think we have a new neighbor,” said Anita.
“Munda bada sona hai!” she promptly said.
“Maaaaa! Stop!” said Anita.
The elevator pinged and stopped at their floor. Mummy Ji made her way to the front door to see if the ‘new munda’ was shifting in the apartment opposite to theirs as it was the only vacant one left in the building. Anita stood behind her mother in silence watching the fun.
Mummy Ji was thrilled to see him exit the elevator and walk to the apartment opposite theirs. She welcomed the new Munda and smiled at him, and said, “Hello beta! Welcome to the neighbourhood! I’m Mrs. Khurana, your next-door neighbour.”
“Hello, Aunty Ji! I’m Arjun” he replied as he searched his bag for the house keys of his new apartment. Arjun took one look at Aunty Ji and imagined her as a huge sunflower. She looked like a typical Punjabi mummy. She was wearing a bright yellow suit and a huge red bindi on her forehead and had a pleasant smile.
“Do you want to come in for a cup of tea?” she said excitedly.
“No Aunty Ji,” he replied. Before he could say anything else, Aunty Ji asked, “Breakfast? I make very nice parathas,”
“That’s very nice of you to ask but maybe some other time. Actually, I’m getting late for work. I’ve just come by to get the truck unloaded,” he said.
He smiled sheepishly and entered his apartment. He felt that Aunty Ji had a million questions running through her head. As he shut the door behind, he rested the back of his head on the door and sighed. He thought to himself, ‘Welcome to the neighborhood!’
The next couple of days went by like a breeze. Anita got used to the routine of going for a run every morning. She started loving every second of it. She also started noticing her new neighbor. It so happened that their timings matched. As she finished her run he would be standing on the balcony with his morning cup of coffee. They would both cordially wave and one and another and smile.
One morning to Anita’s surprise, Arjun joined her for a run. They met halfway and started talking. It turned out that they both had a lot in common. Both were working in the corporate world taking each day as it came. Mummy Ji loved the idea of both of them going for a run together every morning.
It was just the beginning of a new friendship; they both started meeting each other after work and over the weekend. Both of them enjoyed each other’s company.
One weekend Arjun’s parents dropped by to give him a surprise visit. They found him at Mrs. Khurana’s place playing PlayStation with Anita. He introduced them to Mrs. Khurana and Anita. They all had a scrumptious lunch lovingly prepared by Mrs. Khurana. It was an afternoon spent well where both families got to know each other. Arjun’s family was very happy that he had settled in and had such wonderful neighbours.
One evening, Arjun met Anita after work and confided in her about his feelings he had for a colleague at the office. The way he described her seemed like he was talking about his dream girl.
“Today, my boss has assigned me and Swati to work together on a presentation that is coming up next month. I’m so excited that we both are going to be spending some time together,” said Arjun.
“You sound like a teenage boy who has a huge crush on someone,” she replied and started laughing.
Arjun rolled his eyes and gave Anita a serious look.
“Why what happened to that guy, Sahil you kept talking about some time ago?” he continued.
“No luck, the department shifted him to the building opposite mine,” she sulked sadly.
“I actually thought it might click you know, we had a little chemistry every time we spoke,” she said.
Over a period of time, Arjun hit it off with Swati. The amount of time they both spent together working on the presentation let Arjun work his charm. But Swati was more of a serious type of person. She hardly cracked jokes and took everything very seriously.
Like any other morning, Arjun met Anita for a run. They both chatted over a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice at Anita’s place.
“So, how’s it going with Swati?” asked Anita.
“It’s going great!” said Arjun. He didn’t want to get into the nitty-gritty early first in the morning.
“What are your plans for tonight?” asked Arjun.
“Actually, today I have a date with Sahil,” she replied beaming with excitement. “We kept bumping into each other at the parking lot a couple of days back so I guess it just clicked!”
“Oh! Wow! Finally! I’m so happy for you,” he replied.
“Yeah!! I’m nervous and excited at the same time,” she continued.
“Now who sounds like a teenager,” he said and started laughing.
“Anyways, I’ll see you tomorrow morning,” said Arjun as he walked out.
Over the last few months, Arjun and Anita would regularly meet for a run and have a quick chat before they would leave for work. Things were going fine between Anita and Sahil. Although it had only been a couple of months. They both were taking it slow.
As for Arjun, he was on the verge of losing his sanity with Swati. There were many things he just never understood.
“Are all women this difficult to understand,” he asked Anita.
“Well, maybe you’re just thinking too much, I think you need to have a chat with her and tell her how you feel,” she said.
“Wait, I have an idea. Why don’t we go on a double date?” asked Arjun.
“Ummm, ok, sounds good to me,” said Anita.
“Great! Let’s do it this Saturday, I’ll text you the time and location,” he said as he left for work.
On Saturday evening, Anita hunted for something appropriate to wear. She searched through her clothes that were hanging in her wardrobe. She picked out a pretty black dress that she hoped she would fit into after all the regular running. And she did. She was ecstatic that she was finally size 12.
Anita drove down to the restaurant fighting her way through the traffic. She walked in and saw the three of them already seated at the table.
“Hey, guys! I’m sorry I’m late, I got held up in traffic,” she said smiling sheepishly.
Arjun jumped up, as he was so happy to see Anita. They both hugged and he said, “you’re looking Ummm… great!”
“Thanks!! I’m finally size 12. Can you believe it?” She said excitedly.
They all wined and dined and laughed at Anita’s jokes. She really had a wicked sense of humor.
Later that evening Swati broke up with Arjun and said, “We aren’t compatible. You seem happier with Anita,”
Arjun was left speechless. He never felt the need to explain his friendship he shared with Anita to anyone. ‘I don’t need to justify anything!’ he thought to himself and closed the chapter.
Surprisingly, Sahil felt the same. He ended things on a good note with Anita and said, “ I feel like a kebab mein haddi with the two of you. You both look so happy together. I think you both should hook up,” Anita tried to explain to Sahil that the two of them were just friends but it seemed to be a dead end.
The next morning, Anita met Arjun for a run.
“We broke up!” they both said at the same time.
“None of it makes any sense. I mean how hard is it to accept that a man and a woman can be just friends,” she continued.
“I don’t know! But let’s make a pact. If you’re not married by 35 and I’m not married either. Then we’ll get married.
“That’s a horrible idea,” said Anita.
“Oh come on! It’s a great idea,” said Arjun.
“You actually think Mummy Ji will let me stay single till I’m 35?” She continued.
“That’s true! Aunty can’t wait to get rid of you. Now that you have lost weight all the more reason for her to start hunting for the perfect munda!” he laughed.
“ARJUN! I’m going to kill you,” she said.
They both spent their Sunday together playing video games and pulling each other’s legs and had many more to come.
‘Sometimes all you need is a friend to stand by you and accept you for whatever you are.’