The book “Love at Manipal” by Siddhartha Vankar is a contemporary romance read.
In the novel, Snehal is studying at college in Manipal and falls in love with another student, Neeraj, who doesn’t always treat her well. After a fall out, Snehal has a chance meeting with Rajiv, who is also a student. He is charming and caring, but also has a girlfriend, and they are drawn together again when they win the roles of Romeo and Juliet in the local play. Snehal is confused by her feelings for him but, in the meantime, Neeraj has realised his love for her and determines to change, which delights her but also confuses her.
Many years later, Snehal returns to Manipal with her husband to take their son, Nishant, to the same college. They have grown apart in the intervening years but Manipal works its magic again and invokes memories and feelings in them of times gone by. Can they grow back together again and who is Snehal’s true Romeo?
Read an excerpt from the book below.
By the time I reached the hostel it was already four p.m. Chand and Shweta weren’t there in the room… so I called up Nick. “Hey, wassup? What are you doing?” I asked in a very cool and over friendly way.
“Where are you Snehal… and what are you doing in life?” said Nick, emphasizing on the last word ‘life’.
“Nick, we need to meet and talk… where are you… I want to talk to you right now…!” I asked.
“I am in the hostel… I will pick you up in ten…” replied Nick. And in precisely ten minutes, Nick came to pick me up from the hostel. As I sat in the rickshaw, there was an awkward silence… as I had mentioned earlier… Nick’s silence scares me the most… and this was scaring me. “What were you and Rajiv doing on the stage last night?” Nick asked, breaking the silence. By now, we had reached Manipal Greens… we sat on the cascade stairs and Nick asked the same question again.
“Nick, I don’t know… I don’t know what happened last night… I don’t know why Rajiv moved towards me… I don’t know why I moved towards him… I don’t know… I just don’t understand…” I said, choking.
“I know… I bloody well know why all that happened last night because you two are in love with each other and for God sake, Snehal, accept this fact… you know how many questions I had to answer… the whole of the Dramillage gang is talking about it… though BK doesn’t talk about it and jokes that it worked for the play… but a lot of people who were doubting your involvement with Rajiv have started believing that you two have something going on…” said Nick in a single breath.
“Nick, I am very confused… I cannot decide what is right and what is wrong… I feel that I am committing a crime by loving one person and by being someone else’s girlfriend… I feel like a bitch… if I decide to let Neeraj go out of my life and accept Rajiv’s love, I would be accused of double timing and also spoiling things between Rajiv and Misha,” I said in disgust for my own self.
“No… no, Snehal, you are wrong… you are wrong if you think that it’s you who is coming between Rajiv and Misha… the way things were going between them anyway, they would have split… maybe you just acted as a catalyst. And as far as Neeraj is concerned, do we really need to talk about him and his attitude towards you and your love… till when are you going to suppress your feelings… why are you thinking about other people, Snehal? In your miseries and problems did these people come and console you… do they ever bother what goes into making a relationship with a guy who just uses you… and anyways, Snehal… these people will talk for a day or two, or maximum for a week… and then they would get another subject to talk about…” explained Nick.
“But, Nick, what about people from our gang… people who are my friends… people with whom we deal every day… remember all what Rachel told Shweta… am I not doing the same thing? Instead, I feel I am doing worse… I am breaking two hearts… is that right, Nick…?” I asked.
“Yes, it is right… Snehal… in life the most important thing is to be happy yourself; all this sacrifice and giving up your wishes and desires for someone else… is just not done,” Nick tried explaining. But it was of no use… I knew what I was doing was wrong… I knew what was happening between Rajiv and me would be termed infidelity… but at times no amount of logic… no amount of reasoning can help you come out of a tricky situation like this one. I had to draw myself out of this… I thought to myself and in my mind determined never to see Rajiv again.
“Shall we leave for the party…?” asked Nick.
“Nick… I am not coming… I won’t be able to face Rajiv… or rather, I don’t want to face him,” I reacted.
“You don’t have to worry about that… Rajiv himself is not coming… he said he wanted to spend some time alone… I don’t know where he is… he has even switched off his phone…” Nick informed me. Then Nick told me how BK and the entire team was upset about Rajiv not coming for the party… he also said that Rajiv is feeling very guilty about what happened on stage and that’s why he doesn’t want to face me. I got up and started walking briskly towards the auto stand! “Hey, where are you going?” asked Nick.
“I am going to get Rajiv for the party… I know where he is… will see you directly at the party.” Saying this, I rushed into a rickshaw.
It was pretty dark and my retinas took time to get accustomed to the dim light of the Golden Jubilee Hall. I was walking down the stairs of the hall… looking around for Rajiv… but I couldn’t find him anywhere. I reached the stage… where between the drapes… I saw Rajiv lying down on the stage floor. He was wearing a white linen shirt and rugged blue jeans… his eyes were closed and he was wearing an innocent smile on his face. I knew he was sleeping and probably dreaming. I didn’t feel like waking him up… but without opening his eyes he said, “I know you are here…”
I was surprised… how did he know… I hadn’t said a word and I had walked pretty tiptoed. I walked towards him… he opened his eyes but kept lying as I sat beside him. “What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Feeling the place…” replied Rajiv.
“What… feeling the place… what does that mean…” I asked with an unusual poise in my voice.
“Snehal… tomorrow morning this set will be broken… this is the last time I can feel the love I got on the set… the love which I felt for you… the love I could feel from your side…”
I didn’t know what to say… but today I knew I had to speak… had to speak my thoughts… had to speak my mind… had to pour out my heart… and had to give directions to both of our lives.
“Rajiv, I know this is probably the last time we are meeting… like this and maybe in the days to come, we would get used to not seeing each other like this… and a little later maybe we would not be able to see each other for weeks together… weeks will turn into months… and maybe till the day we finish our courses, we won’t meet… don’t react… listen first… don’t feel remorse for not getting what wasn’t in our destiny… instead feel happy and remember fondly the moments we had spent together… these moments are as precious as a lifetime… years later when both of us would have settled in our lives… we would still remember these days we spent with each other, with a smile on our faces… or even joke about the fact that we had developed feelings for each other,” I articulated.
“What are we doing here, Snehal… really?” he asked.
“I don’t know Rajiv… tomorrow we will be back, busy with the daily rut… same people, same classes, same lectures… everything the same… but that same and this same are different, Rajiv… I will miss these happy moments…” I said, lying beside Rajiv.
“Happiness is also like a dew drop, Snehal… it vanishes once the sun comes out and the warm rays engulf the world in their light… such is life…” said Rajiv.
“Will we also get lost like the dew…?” asked Snehal.
“Snehal… have you ever made castles on sandy beaches…?” he asked.
“Yes…” I replied.
“All kids do, na… they make a small hut… put fences… fix small shrubs… decorate it… and by the time they finish, it’s time for them to go home… they leave their hut unguarded… and at night a big wave comes and washes it away… but you know something, Snehal… all is not washed away… some bit of it does remain… (he held my hand and placed it near his heart) here… similarly, the moments we have spent… won’t ever get lost in the warm lights of the sun, Snehal… they will live here forever…” he said. I couldn’t control my tears and sat up holding my knees to my chin. He got up, came closer to me… held me by my shoulders and raised my head… he wiped my tears and cupped my face in his hand and embraced me. I melted in his arms like soft mud… I wept and wept for a long time and all he did was just hold me tight and pat my head.
By the time we reached Saiba, everyone had already ordered food. But, as expected, all of them stood up seeing the two of us come in… they cheered… for Romeo and Juliet. Some people made snide remarks by saying that seeing what happened on stage it seems that we are real life Romeo and Juliet. I hated it. I mean I don’t go out passing comments on people. I was stuck at Saiba with these irritating people…I hardly was looking up from my Sizzler…Nick knew what was exactly going on in my and Rajiv’s mind. Once the dinner was over BK announced, “as per the tradition of Dramillage we will go out of Manipal for a short trip…and this year we have decide to hit Goa….” Everyone cheered out of excitement and started making plans but I kept quite…and so did Rajiv.