One Friday morning in the month of October 2014, while having breakfast, I sent a text message to one of my friend Laura Fernandez to inform her about my schedule of visiting Mumbai and to know if she would be in the city. I have few friends in Mumbai and every time I visit the city, I try to meet a couple of them.
“Hello, Laura, next week I will be in Mumbai for THREE days to attend the Annual Strategic Meet of our organization. I am wondering if we can catch-up for a cup of coffee”, I sent a message on her WhatsApp.
She replied immediately.
“Wow, so finally my turn has come to meet you. But what is this about “cup of coffee”? Aren’t you going to take me out for dinner as you promised last time after cancelling our meeting at the last moment?”, she responded.
Her response deserved a phone call, so I rang on her mobile to arrange our meeting. We agreed to schedule our dinner at Saffron, J. W Marriot, Mumbai, on the last day of my meet, which also happened to be Friday.
40 years old, Laura Fernandez is a CEO of Market Research Company that employs 125+ employees. Behind that tough looking, aggressive, data-loving, analytical, and market savvy woman, is a soft and caring heart. I believe she has inherited these traits from her father, who retired after serving a government organization as principal scientist. She is the only child of her parents. Seven years ago, I met her in one of the NHRDN events, where she was invited as a speaker. A casual chat and exchange of business cards led to a professional relationship, as she began to seek my inputs on HR related issues. Most of our conversation was made through WhatsApp, Skype, and emails. It was not until two years ago, when she began to share her stories with me, such as her fears, aspirations, failures, family bonding, kids, emotions, etc. Yes, I didn’t know much about her and nor did she know everything about me. Probably, with time we would share more. I knew that thrice she came close to getting married and last time it was just three months before her father’s death. Unfortunately, it didn’t materialize. Since then she decided to stay single. However, I didn’t know the exact story. I had been requesting her to share it, but she seemed reluctant. I knew she was planning to adopt a couple of female children but not aware of any progress in that direction. I fancied getting lucky with her stories.
When I reached the J.W Marriot, Laura was waiting for me in the lobby. Wearing a violet colour knee-length dress, this 5’7” tall, athletic, fair complexion, slim lady was looking stunning beauty. We shook hands and hugged. Then we walked to The Saffron. As we were walking, she asked me about my strategy meet. After reaching the restaurant, the manager guided us to our table. I asked her about her work and her plans to grow her business before we ordered Akbari Murg Tikka and Bharwan Shahi Paneer Tikka in appetizer and a glass of red wine and Vodka with Coconut water for drinks. Laura is an excellent painter, photographer and she loves traveling. A couple of months ago, she went to Iceland, Dublin, and Ireland. I asked her about her trips and experiences. It was only after her first glass of red wine that she began to open up. She enquired about Shraddha’s wellbeing and our family planning. She joked that she would be pleased to be a surrogacy mother for one of my children, which I laughed off. I enquired about her plans of adopting a kid. She replied that the process of adoption had been initiated, and would take few months before she would be able to bring home a child.
“But then why don’t you get married and have your own,” I further inquired.
“Sanjeev, are you kidding me? I am already 40 years old. Who will marry me at this age when people didn’t marry me when I was younger? Well, neither do I regret my past nor my decision to stay single”, she replied.
“I don’t know the cause of your this decision, but it was SIX years ago. By now you could have found someone and got married”, I said.
“Well, human relations and emotions are not that simple. You know this Sanjeev”, she said.
“But what happened SIX years ago,” I continued to intrude.
“Sanjeev, are you looking for a story for your blog,” she gave a sarcastic smile. “Okay, today I will share my story,” she continued.
Before she could begin her story, we ordered for the main course and asked the waiter to refill our glasses.
Laura began to narrate incidents that changed her life forever.
“It happened in the year 2008. His name was Anand. He belonged to a Tamil Brahmin family and was working with Information Technology organization as a Program Manager in Bangalore. We were introduced by a common friend in the year 2003. He was very polite and sophisticated kind of a person, brilliant, knowledgeable and well-travelled. When in the same city, we would meet for a cup of coffee or dinner. He would often bring flowers and gifts for me. In 2006, his company transferred him to Dallas for a year, which was later extended by six more months. During that time also we stayed in touch. We would talk over Skype or phone at least once in a week or so.
When he returned from Dallas in March 2008, he came to Mumbai, specifically to meet me. He had brought many gifts for me. Over the period of last FIVE years, I indeed had developed a soft corner in my heart for him, but none of us knew how to take this forward, at least I was hesitant to take the initiative. In the month of May, I had to travel to Bangalore to meet a couple of clients. I met Anand in Café Coffee Day for a quick meet, before rushing to catch my flight. While having coffee, he proposed to me in front of 25+ other customers in the café. I was awestruck but didn’t know how to respond. My heart wanted him to propose to me, but when it happened, I was utterly speechless. I asked him to give me time.
During the entire journey from Bangalore to Mumbai, A flashback of our relation to past FIVE years crossed my mind. It was all like a dream. Once I reached Mumbai, he called me to know if I have reached my flat or not. He reiterated everything that he said in the café. He also stated that he had been trying to express his feelings for quite some time but couldn’t as he thought I might have someone and I being an entrepreneur, he assumed, that he was no match for me. It was still like a dream to me, so I asked him to give me a couple of days to think.
I shared it with my parents, and they readily accepted Anand. They wanted to meet him. I shared it with him and asked him to come to Mumbai during the following weekend. He agreed. Since the likely change in relationship status was on the brink, we began talking often to understand each other. Our discussions were usually about our professions, would he be relocating to the USA or elsewhere and what would be the future of my business. At that time I had less than 30 employees, and I was willing to close it down to be with him, but he encouraged me to pursue. He advised that we sleep on it at least for a year to sort things out before getting married. However, he was comfortable getting engaged in 2-3 months.
He reached Mumbai on Friday night. On Saturday morning, I went to pick him from The Lalit, Mumbai. In a quest of giving him a surprise, I went to his room, without calling him from lobby. He was surprised to see me at the door. While he was getting ready, I stood by the window looking outside. He came closer to me, hugged me, put his lips on mine and suddenly I don’t know what happened, and we ended up making love. We were so engrossed into one another that it took a call from my mother, stating that they are waiting for us, to bring us to the real world.
We reached my parents’ house for breakfast; such was his charisma that he was instantly liked by my parents. They asked him about his parents and told him to bring them to Mumbai or else they would go and meet his parents. It was decided that my parents would travel to Chennai to meet his parents after 18 days on 28th June. After our breakfast, we decided to spend the entire day together. We went for a movie, had lunch at Souk, The Taj Mahal Palace, Colaba and had a long romantic walk on Marine. Before going for dinner, I took him to show my flat in Andheri East. We ended up having another session of love-making; finally, it so happened that we couldn’t go out for dinner and instead ordered pizza. That night he stayed with me.
In the morning, he left for his hotel and invited me there for lunch. His flight was in the evening at 6 PM. We spent the entire afternoon in his hotel room, discussing our plans, marriage, honeymoon, families, cultural challenges, our house, kids, etc. Last two days were most fantastic days of my life. The thought of him leaving for Bangalore in a couple of hours was making me sad, and tears began to roll down through my eyes. He was comforting me. He said that he would start visiting Mumbai often. He kissed me, and we had another passionate session of love making. Then he left for the airport.
From then on, every weekend we would spend together; either he would come to Mumbai, or I would go to Bangalore. As decided, my parents met his parents in Chennai. They liked me, and we got engaged in July 2008. At that time, my father was fighting cancer. His health began to deteriorate drastically. He told me to convince Anand to get married in October. Anand was not ready. He didn’t want to marry before April 2009. His parents also tried to convince, but he didn’t budge. Our communications turned into fights. In September, he stopped coming to Mumbai and would often cite one excuse or the other. We broke-up in the 1st week of October. If that wasn’t enough, my father died in the 3rd week on December. At that time, I was infuriated with Anand. I thought that he deprived my dad of his last happiness – seeing us married.
So, that’s my story”. Laura said.
While narrating the entire story, her eyes became moist, and her voice was shaking. Finally, I knew the reason of her “not available, hard look.” It made difficult for people to see her vulnerability through tough expressions.
“I am so sorry to know all this, but then you are a brave lady,” I said, trying to comfort her.
“Well, Sanjeev, there is nothing to be sorry about. We make our choices. Some people stay in our life for a short duration and leave a lasting impact. Anand is one of them. He is my past but in that shorter period, he had given me some wonderful memories”, she replied.
In the meantime, the waiter presented the bill, and I gave my credit card to him.
“Didn’t you try to reach out to him,” I asked her.
“He called me once when he got to know about my father; however, I didn’t answer his call. Later, he sent an apology email, blaming self for all that had happened. I chose not to respond. We have familiar friends, but I decided not to discuss him. I had been informed that he got married in September 2013, to a girl selected by his parents”, she replied calmly.
“Laura, I am not able to understand his obsession with “getting married after April 2009 only.” Why was that”, I asked curiously.
“He was one of the high-performer high-potential employees of the organization. His organization had gone through the process of restructuring, which had classified the entire organization into FOUR verticals based on service lines. Each of the vertical was to be headed by newly appointed Managing Directors. Along with THREE other leaders, he was under consideration for the role of Managing Director for one of the service lines. Starting from April 2008, his performance was under consideration for the period of ONE year. During this period, he was also required to attend several leadership development programs, as well as Coaching and Mentoring sessions, to get equipped with challenges of the new role. He didn’t want to lose his focus. He said that he would have to take at least ONE month leave for our marriage and honeymoon, which wasn’t possible in his current schedule”, Laura explained.
“You know what Laura, you should have sent him to jail for raping you by promising you to get married,” I threw a bouncer.
“What Sanjeev? You are an intelligent person, don’t make me doubt it. He can be anything but certainly not a rapist. Whatever happened between us was our mutual choice. Things didn’t work out the way they should have been, but that doesn’t mean that I will blame him. Anand never said that he didn’t want to get married to me. He needed time. My father didn’t have time. He was racing against time. He is a wonderful person and will always be so. I wish good things for him”, she responded.
“As they rightly say, it is impossible to understand the heart and underlying emotions of a woman,” I quipped.
“I don’t know why men even try to understand,” she laughed out.
We walked out of the hotel, called our drivers to bring in cars, hugged each other and with a promise of meeting again, we took our respective journey.
While coming back to Pune, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the story of Laura. This lady had very clear thinking. She knew what she wanted. She was independent and didn’t want mercy of others. Also, she seemed to belong to that rare breed of females who believe that what happens between an adult male and female is often mutual and consensual. They are well aware of what they are getting into – challenges and consequences. Blaming one another for the failure is unfair.
What do you think about it? Do you have any similar example to share? Please comment and share your views.
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