As I contemplated returning to my hometown, the anticipation of reuniting with its lush landscapes, the familiar beauty, and the fresh native air stirred more excitement within me than the prospect of seeing my relatives and fellow countrymen again. Memories, vivid and colorful, flooded my mind, transporting me back to my cherished homeland.
In my childhood, I reveled in carefree play with friends, basked in the joy of the locals when I achieved a rank in the 10th standard, and savored countless moments of happiness.
Festivals and weddings were celebrated with open hearts, and every home provided me with a sense of belonging. To all, I was either a child or a son, a brother-in-law, or simply part of the family. My sibling also shared this connection, making us an integral part of our country.
Our parents, both teachers, raised us with love and care. My brother, though not as academically inclined as I, excelled in sports, earning a plethora of trophies that adorned our household shelves.
While I too had an interest in sports, my stamina often fell short, leading me to consume my fair share of Mohanan Vaidyar's decoctions – a local remedy. My brother, on the other hand, pursued economics with a passion, achieving exceptional grades in his master's and PhD. He dreamt of becoming a college professor and tying the knot with Lakshmi.
Ah, Lakshmi – she was my childhood playmate, our neighbor, and a distant relative. She was the girl who had once promised to be mine, the queen of my dreams. Yet, I was leaving her behind, ruthlessly, all for the sake of my brother's love for Lakshmi.
In our country, there wasn't a soul unaware of the bond between Lakshmi and me. Although we weren't married, everyone accepted us as husband and wife. Whenever I needed to go somewhere, I'd take her on my bike, a source of immense joy. However, fate had other plans.
One day, while riding my bike, I suddenly felt unwell, and fortunately, the bike came to a halt. I lay there, clutching my chest for what felt like an eternity, until I finally drifted into unconsciousness.
When I regained my senses, I rushed to the doctor. After a battery of tests, the heartbreaking truth emerged – my heart was severely damaged. It was already too late, and the doctor's prognosis offered no solace. Even if surgery were attempted, there was little hope for a full recovery.
I was devastated when the doctor advised me not to entertain any thoughts of marriage. He said I might live for a couple more years if I took exceptional care of myself. In that moment, my mind fixated not on my own life but on the image of Lakshmi.
A decision crystallized then and there: I would keep my illness a secret. If Lakshmi were to find out, it would crush her, and she might not envision a life beyond me. Her existence would be forever entwined with mine.
Fate played its hand again when I received the appointment letter for an assistant professor position at the college. Although I stood before them after the interview, I harbored little hope. The news delighted my family and the local community.
Lakshmi's father, Bala (Krishna) Maman, came to discuss our impending marriage. When he asked if we should postpone the wedding since I had secured a job, my father readily agreed.
It was only when I expressed my disinterest in the marriage that both my father and Balamama were taken aback, unaware of the storm brewing within me.