At the ripe-old age of seven, after watching his first Republic Day Parade on Doordarshan, Mitesh arrived upon a momentous decision, to do something that no Gujarati had done before him. No, it was not to travel to Switzerland without visiting Jungfraujoch, but something even bigger than that- He decided that he would only marry a girl from North-East India!
He had been cursorily watching the tableaux of various states in the parade when his eyes got stuck on the TV screen, and just refused to budge. It was the tableau of Sikkim, and it was a virtual wonderland- snow-capped mountains, bubbling brooks, and by those brooks, a bunch of bubbly girls the likes of whom he had never seen in his sheltered life in Vashi- Long, lustrous, jet-black hair, pretty eyes, flawless fair skin, svelte figures, and all of them dressed in exotic, printed silk dresses. Mitesh was spellbound, and turning towards his mother, made the earth-shattering pronouncement that would change his life forever. His mother replied disinterestedly, “Yes yes, first finish your thepla, we’ll see later!”
With the passage of time, Mitesh’s resolve, instead of getting weakened and forgotten as a childhood fancy, only strengthened in intensity. However, there was only one problem, no girl from the North-East had ever set foot in Vashi, nor was one likely to in the foreseeable future.
So while his friends in school, and then college, found themselves girlfriends and boyfriends, Mitesh kept on waiting. All his friends got married eventually, but Mitesh kept on waiting. He was confident that someone, somewhere, but in the North-East, was waiting for him.
And then came the day that Mitesh had been dreading for a long time- His 30th birthday. There was a huge party at his place, but while cutting the cake, he felt like his heart was being cut into pieces, for he knew what was going to follow. And his fears were not unfounded, for as soon as the last guest departed, his mother sat him down, and sternly made a pronouncement of her own, “If you do not find a girl before your next birthday, you will have to marry a girl of my choice!”
He knew that his mother would brook no dissent on this matter, but giving up on his life-long dream was also not an option he could live with. So, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He applied for a two weeks leave at his office, and decided to go to Gangtok and look for the girl of his dreams.
Once he had made up his mind, Mitesh started planning like a man possessed. He sent out emails to various tour operators to plan an itinerary for him, for he did not want to restrict his search just to Gangtok. The responses that he received all followed the same route, similar hotels, even used the same language to describe places. And then….he received Sonam’s email.
It spoke of green valleys, fresh snow on tall mountain peaks, brooks that took birth on those tall mountain peaks and transformed into raging rivers by the time they reached the green valleys, and the fragrance of the wildflowers that the brooks helped take birth on their way. To Mitesh, it spoke of only one thing, it spoke of love!
But Mitesh was not one to get carried away by his feelings, he wanted to check first whether Sonam was married or single, what she looked like, what were her passions and interests….So he decided to go about the investigation in a systematic manner.
First, he wrote her a mail, asking for some pictures of previous tours that she had conducted. She promptly mailed back with a bunch of photographs of a recent group tour of some college students from Mumbai. Mitesh excitedly downloaded all the photos, and started trying to identify her. And there she was, the girl of his dreams, standing with a group of gorgeous girls, but still standing out. It was not just her distinct features which helped him identify her, it was also the laughter that he saw in her eyes, which told him that he had finally found THE ONE!
So he wrote back to her, telling her about how he loved the mountains, but did not just want to tick boxes, it was an easy pace that he was looking for, so that he could soak in the natural beauty of the region. She read his brief, an it brought a smile to her lips, for he seemed to have his heart in the right place.
She wrote right back, and asked, “How about spending a week in a mountain village?” “Is it any good?” Mitesh enquired. “I sure hope so,” came Sonam’s response, “I have been living here since the past one year.” “Does it have a bubbling brook?” asked Mitesh. She replied with just a photograph of the most gorgeous mountain river that he’d ever seen.
He finalized the trip through her then, but the exchange of mails and phone calls continued unabated. They realized that they did not just share a common love for the North-East, but also of cricket. And when Mitesh discovered that Sonam too was a vegetarian like him, he knew that his mother too would not need too much convincing. Sonam too found herself falling for that strangely shy and sensitive guy from Vashi. Both were now waiting expectantly for the day when the trip would start and they would finally meet.
And now, finally, that day was here. Sonam wore her best dress and reached the airport and hour before the scheduled arrival of Mitesh’s flight so that she would not be late. Mitesh spent the entire time on the flight drinking glassfuls of water, and then visiting the bathroom to make space for the next glass.
The flight landed after what, to both, seemed like an eternity. Mitesh was the first one out of the plane, earning angry glances and mutterings from his fellow passengers, and also the first one to collect his baggage. He almost ran towards the Arrivals Gate, where Sonam was waiting for him, with a board, and a loving heart, that had his name on it.
He came out, and started looking around for the girl from the pictures. He quickly glanced through the crowd of people who were waiting for passengers from various flights, but could not see her. So he tried again, this time from right to left, and much slower, but she was still nowhere to be seen. He looked a third time at all the faces, but that face would have stood out even in this crowd, he knew that for a certainty. She was not there.
His face fell upon this realization, and he started walking out with slumped shoulders and dragging feet, when he heard a soft, tentative voice call out, “Mitesh?”
He looked up sharply towards the voice, and saw that it was an extremely pretty girl, though definitely not from North-East India, whom he’d missed noticing while searching for his Sonam. He saw that this girl had a placard in her hands, with his name on it.
His heart filled with hope again, and he said, “That’s me. Did Sonam send you to receive me?” There was a hint of pain in the girl’s eyes as she replied, “I’m Sonam, Mitesh.” He asked indignantly, “Is this a joke? How can you be Sonam?” She took out her Aadhaar Card and showed it to him for verification then, but he still refused to believe her.
He showed her the photos that she had mailed him, and pointing towards the North-Eastern beauty in them, asked, “If you are Sonam, why did you send me a photo of this girl?” She seemed genuinely surprised on hearing this, took the phone from him, zoomed the photograph, and replied, “That is just some North-Eastern girl who had come on this group tour from Vashi. See, here I am, in all the photos.”
And when Mitesh looked closely, he realized that she was telling the truth, she was present in all the photographs, and now that he looked at the photographs without the race filter, he could clearly see that this girl appeared to be leading the group.
He looked up, and he saw that Sonam’s eyes were filled with tears now. Before he could say anything, she turned and quickly started walking off towards the parking. Something snapped inside him then, maybe it was the stupid childhood infatuation, or maybe it was his long-held belief that he could find true love only with someone from a specific region.
He ran after her, shouting out her name like a mad man, caught up with her just as she was about to enter her car, turned her around, and hugged her. He told her the entire story then, and said, “I accept that I initially got attracted to that North-Eastern girl in the photograph, but I fell in love with you, only you, that girl was a stranger then, and a stranger now. I know now that you can’t force love to do your bidding, you will truly be happy only when YOU do love’s bidding! So can you please forgive me? There’s no one else I can imagine spending even a moment of the rest of my life with, so let us go, the mountain village awaits!”
That brought a smile to Sonam’s tear-streaked face, and she jumped into the driver’s seat and they were off. As they got out of the airport parking, Mitesh asked her, “By the way, I still don’t know your full name, and where do you originally belong to.”
Sonam smiled mischievously, and replied, “Hi, I’m Sonam Shah. And don’t worry, you won’t lose too much face among your friends and family on marrying me.” “Why is that?” asked Mitesh. Sonam replied, “Because even though I’m not an exotic beauty from North-East, technically, I still belong to the North-East. My family belongs to North-East Mumbai, or more specifically, Thane!”