Sunaina was beautiful, intelligent, compassionate and all of eighteen years. She stood outside the gates of the Hindu College, brimming with confidence, a smile on her face. Her dream of getting admitted into one of the most prestigious colleges affiliated to the DU (Delhi University) is what had kept her going these past few years. Sunaina had her career all planned out, she knew she had to graduate in B.Com (Hons), do her MBA from one the IIMs and then go work for a multinational corporation like Google or Facebook. Today, she knew she was one step closer to accomplishing that dream.
Not only was Sunaina an exemplary student, she excelled in extra-curricular activities too. She was in her college debate team, basketball team and she was also the president of its cultural club.
The “Youth Nexus” is DU’s annual, three-day cultural fest, where colleges battle it out against each other, across various cultural events, vying for the coveted title of “College of the Year.” It was during one of these cultural fests that Sunaina met Abhay. He was the rhythm guitarist in his college band; he had a way with guitars. Unlike Sunaina who was an only child and came from a well-to-do family, Abhay had a humble upbringing. His parents, a Brahmin couple, hailed from a sleepy village called Onavakalmedu in Tamil Nadu. Abhay’s father had been working as a clerk in the Dept. of Science & Technology in Delhi for the past twenty-five years. His mother taught music to children at home and spent the rest of her time taking care of her three children and their father. Abhay spent most of his time immersed in music; he wasn’t much of a student. His friends adored him for his wit. The women were attracted to his Greek-god good-looks and his tantalizing singing-voice.
Sunaina and Abhay had become inseparable since that day. Their colleges were situated ten kilometres away from each other, but this didn’t stop them from meeting every day. Sunaina helped Abhay with his studies and he taught her to strum the guitar. They went to the movies. They took long drives in Sunaina’s car. They volunteered at a local orphanage every alternate weekend. Though they had never spoken about it, they knew in their hearts that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with each other.
After graduating from DU, Sunaina moved to Lucknow where she would then spent the next two years pursuing a PG in Management at IIML. Abhay in the meanwhile started work with a reputed ad-agency in Mumbai. They spoke to each other over the phone every day or Skyped whenever they got the chance. They met during all major public holidays and on Valentine’s Day. Sexting helped keep their hormones in check whenever they were not together. Sunaina got recruited by Google in a campus placement drive; she had now attained everything she had planned for. After graduating with top honors from IIML, Sunaina moved back to Delhi. She started off at Google and rented a place in Gurgaon to stay. Abhay requested and got transferred to his agency’s Noida office. The drive from Gurgaon to Noida was exhausting and an hour long, but every bit worth it. Sunaina and Abhay had decided that they would tell their parents about their relationship, soon. They couldn’t wait to get married and start their new lives together. However, one incident changed everything; this she had not planned for.
One night, while returning home from a colleague’s wedding anniversary celebration, Sunaina was dragged out of her car and abducted by a group of five drunken men. She was drugged and taken to an empty warehouse in Gurgaon where she was viciously gang raped. Sunaina, who remained groggy and unconscious during most parts of this savaged act, was then dumped at the gates of the Medanta hospital. Her lips were swollen, bite marks covered her cheeks and other parts of her body, blood stained her skin and her clothes were barely clinging onto her body. The security guards who witnessed her being thrown out of the moving car, quickly rushed to her aid. The Gurgaon police found Sunaina’s abandoned car and tracked her down at the hospital. The news was delivered to Sunaina’s parents and they rushed to the hospital fearing for the worst. Upon their arrival, the doctors informed them that Sunaina was alive and undergoing treatment in the ICU. The parents waited on a hospital bench, with tears in their eyes and a prayer on their lips.
Abhay had tried calling Sunaina’s phone all morning but there was no answer. He then started to panic and called up a common friend who broke the news to Abhay. He felt a crushing sensation in his heart and collapsed into the sofa, dropping the phone onto the floor. He lay motionlessly as tears trickled down from his eyes. He had spoken to Sunaina last night, just after she left her colleague’s house. They had made plans to have lunch together the next day. A mixed emotion of anger and anguish swept over him, he rushed out of the house and caught a cab to the hospital. Thanks to the security guards, who were able to make note of the license plate number of the Omni van from which Sunaina was tossed, the cops were able to track down the perpetrators within ten hours after Sunaina was dumped at the hospital gates. The five men were later identified to be traders from Central market in Lajpat Nagar.
Abhay met Sunaina’s parents at the hospital, introducing himself as a friend, he inquired about her condition. They told him that she was still being kept in the ICU and that the doctors were attending to her. Later in the evening, one of the doctors emerged from the ICU and informed Sunaina’s parents that her condition was now stabilizing, but she had suffered injury to her spinal cord and that she may need to be kept in the ICU for a couple more days. Abhay stayed beside Sunaina’s parents for the next few days, consoling them, bringing them food and refreshments. Four days later Sunaina was shifted to the general ward and was diagnosed with paraplegia, which meant that she would be paralyzed waist down for the rest of her life. Doctors later told Sunaina’s parents that her spinal cord injury was the cause of her paralysis and they supposed that Sunaina would have received the injury to her spinal cord when she was tossed out of the moving car.
Abhay felt rage build-up inside him when he heard the news. He cried by Sunaina’s bedside. She was still unconscious from all the medications that were infused into her. He blamed himself for not being there with her all the time. He cursed life for being unfair to them; they had never wronged anybody. He wanted to punish the men who did this to her. He felt helpless. He lost the desire to live. By then Sunaina’s parents had realized that Abhay was more than just a friend to Sunaina. Seeing Abhay miserable and distraught, the parents asked him to go home for a few days to rest, by then Sunaina would’ve regained consciousness as well. Abhay left the hospital unwillingly; he wanted to be there when she woke-up.
Sunaina regained consciousness the very next day and she was moved to the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre located in Vasant Kunj, as suggested by Sunaina’s father’s doctor friends. Sunaina’s mother called Abhay to inform him that Sunaina was being moved to Vasant Kunj. Abhay rushed to the hospital, eager to talk to Sunaina, hold her hands. He stopped on the way to buy some white roses, Sunaina’s favorite. He also bought a stuffed teddy bear that had the words I Love You embroidered in the front. He didn’t mind being cheesy this once, he knew that he had to try everything he could to get Sunaina to laugh again. He met Sunaina’s father in the hospital lobby. He told Abhay that Sunaina didn’t want to meet him and that Abhay should give Sunaina a few days to recover from the mental trauma. Abhay left without uttering a word, handing the roses and the stuffed toy to Sunaina’s father.
Abhay felt shattered. He thought Sunaina blamed him for what had happened to her. His mind tried to find answers to why Sunaina insisted on not seeing him. He called Sunaina’s father on his cellphone to check-up on her, but even he stopped answering the phone after a while. Meanwhile, Sunaina was starting to accept the fact that she would never be able to walk again. Doctors said that her bowel movements would normalize over time. She held no grudge towards the men who did this to her. She knew that she had only herself to blame, but she didn’t know why. She did not feel sorry for herself, she felt sorry for her parents who would have to take care of her for the remainder of her life. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she lay motionless on the hospital bed, feeling sorry for what she had done to Abhay. She loved him now more than ever but she could not let him waste his life with her. He deserved better and she was no good for him anymore. Sunaina had made-up her mind; she told her parents that they should never let Abhay see her or talk to her ever again.
Two months later, Sunaina heard the doorbell ring, as she sat on her wheelchair in the balcony of her house. She could hear people talk in the living room. She had gotten used to people coming over to express their sympathies. Even before she had the chance to end this train of thought, she saw Abhay standing at the balcony door, bearing a bouquet of white roses in his hands. She quickly spun her wheelchair to face away from him. Abhay walked over to where Sunaina was and went down on his knees, placing the bouquet at Sunaina’s feet. He then took out a small box from his pocket and looked Sunaina in the eye. She knew what was about to happen and she felt warm tears roll down her eyes. Abhay asked “Sunaina Shah, will you do me the honor of marrying me?” Sunaina’s and Abhay’s parents emerged into the balcony armed with a smile on their faces. Sunaina looked over at their parents and then at Abhay. He took her hand and squeezed it with a reassurance that told her nothing had changed between them. Her eyes glistened and her heart felt less heavy than it had felt in the past few months. She said, “Abhay Padmanabhan Iyer, yes–I’ll marry you.”