"Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory." - Susan B. Anthony

18 July 2003
India Tea Centre, near Churchgate Station, Bombay


It is 6:30 pm, Tanveer dressed in formal trousers, a light blue shirt and a grey tie struggles his way into the depilated old Victorian building that houses the India Tea Centre. He is soaking wet after a short walk from Churchgate Station having encountered a raging downpour that one in Bombay considers as the usual monsoons. The sky wears a dark shade of purplish grey with the setting sun hidden behind the clouds bringing in an air of darkness and gloom with a storm lurking above. The gusty winds from the Arabian Sea make a whistling sound as they rustle through the branches of the oak tree in the compound outside the India Tea Centre.

Tanveer is on time as usual despite the long train ride and the threatening storm outside and after a short trip to the restroom to wipe his hair he takes his place at the same table at the far end of the tea centre that he and the gang have occupied every other day for the past three years.

Removing his tie and undoing his collar button, Tanveer signals to the waiter to bring him his usual cup of cutting chai. He patiently sits back and awaits the arrival of Tania, Sameer, Vikram and Naina. Tania, Sameer and Vikram are his closest friends from college with whom he has spent three memorable years. They have completed their Bachelor in Management Studies just two months ago from the prestigious Sherwood College. Naina is two batches junior to them and she and Vikram have been dating for the past few months. Waiting for his friends and his cup of chai, Tanveer begins to think about the interview he had with Oceania Bank earlier in the day.

The waiter interrupts Tanveer's flow of thoughts, telling him in an apologetic tone, "Sir, aapki chai." Twenty minutes later, Tanveer sees Sameer and Tania in figure hugging blue dress walk in through the door hand in hand. He remembers how smitten he was by Tania when he first met her. He was at that point of time envious of Sameer when he had begun dating Tania. Sameer was not conventionally good looking but the manner in which he carried himself set him apart from the crowd. He was sophisticated, articulate and well read. All these were qualities that Tanveer wanted to emulate. He thinks how naive he had been in those initial days in Bombay. Even now he is awestruck by Tania's stunningly beautiful eyes and her smile.

Even though his heart skips a beat and he averts his eyes gaze Tania's cheerful countenance. She puts him at ease in her easy going manner in much the same way as she did three years ago when they first met.

Tanveer rises from his comfortable chair to shake hands with Sam and exchanges a peck on the cheek with Tania. Sam, Vicky and Tanveer have over the past three years become thicker than thieves despite being quite different in their mannerisms, their attitude, family background and their outlook towards life while Tania has been at the centre of their attention for different reasons.

Sameer with an air of concern tells Tanveer, "Dude why don't you come over after Athena and stay over at my place for a couple of days? I know your job hunt is on but I leave in five days and will be good to have you around and make you do my packing. You can even have a good portion of what's being cooked for me. Mum is trying to feed me a little extra now that I am going away," he laughs.

Tanveer smiles and remembers the delicious food that Mrs Ahuja had often made for the group.

Mr and Mrs Ahuja are among the nicest people one could come across and are extremely fond of Vikram and Tanveer. Tanveer is treated as a part of the family and joins them most Sundays for a family lunch. Tanveer has also interned at Mr Ahuja's office during summer and winter breaks and during college had taken up little projects every Saturday that earned him some pocket money and gave him experience in finance, his subject of interest. His dream is to become a leading institutional banker some day.

The Ahujas, are also particularly fond of Tania and it is a given to them that Sameer would marry Tania in the not so distant future.

Tania gives him a cynical smile. "That's mean you want him around to do your packing, you should be ashamed using him like this," she says looking at Sameer.
"No he's meticulous and organized besides Mum loves having him around like she does with you. It takes some focus off me." Sameer says and continues smiling at her, "Besides I could then spend some quality time with you, what say Tani Pie?"

"You're plain evil! That's a great idea, but I still don't know why you have to go away," says Tania with a gleam in her eyes being affectionate and feeling sad at the same time.

Sam kisses her long tresses, "Yes of course sweetheart, without doubt. We've discussed this right?" Sameer says with a hint of irritation and Tania looks tense. Sameer appears torn between what he wants and what he loves and looks at her with affection. "We've spoken about this babe. We'll manage, UK isn't that far away and it's just two years they'll fly," he says.

Tania rests her head on his shoulders wondering about the two years to come given there wasn't a day in the past three years since they had begun dating that they did not speak to each other.

Looking at his watch Tanveer gets restless and asks, "Where is Vicky? I spoke to him an hour ago and he said he will be here in five minutes. This is typical of him yaar! I rushed from my interview at Oceania Bank to get here in time." He signals to the waiter to get him another cup of chai.

"Chill, Vicky knows we'll head out to party only after nine, he'll come accordingly. Hope the interview went well. When will they get back to you?" Sameer asks calmly.

Tania being accustomed to Vikram's ways says looking at her phone, "Yes I hope you get the job Tanveer. Vicky is picking up Naina, who is still getting dressed. Ok they want us to meet them directly outside Athena in forty-five minutes. So let's leave in ten minutes then."

The boys nod in affirmative. "Yes I hope I get the job too, they are offering thirty grand a month, and the opportunities to grow are good. I can send back at least half of what I make back home," Tanveer says with some hope and excitement.

"Spend on yourself too dude, there are certain things you need in life, be responsible like you are but don't neglect yourself," Sameer advises him in his big brotherly fashion.

Tania turns towards him with concern in her voice, "Yes, Tanveer you better eat nicely, get a good place and go buy a decent car. How long will you take the local train?" she asks.

"True, but my sister needs to get married next year, the younger one Zoya goes to college this year. My Dad retires from his job with LIC this year too, his pension will barely cover the living expenses," Tanveer replies looking a little stressed.

Tania places her hand on Tanveer's and gives him a troubled look knowing that her friend would put his responsibilities above his own dreams. This is how deeply rooted he is with his family.

"Vicky and Naina seem to be going steady. Surprisingly this one has lasted, we don't have a flavour of the week as we did with Vicky in the past. I miss his skirt chasing stories, dating women and breaking up with them...But it's good to see him settle down with one girl," Sam retorts with a grin.

Tania with some concern and an air of doubt adds in her point of view, "Well I hope she lasts, she is a nice girl. She is so unlike him, she is very focused towards her modelling career. Vicky needs some focus and balance in his life too; he needs to start doing something!"

"Yes, I have been persuading him to join his Dad's company," Tanveer says repeating the advice he kept giving Vicky from the first day they spoke.

"Guys chill, Vicky is a cool dude. He'll sort himself out when the time comes. He's intelligent, I'm sure he'll make it bigger than any of us. He is born with a silver spoon too," Sameer says.

Tania looks affectionately at Sameer, "But you're the most creative Sam, it is amazing the way you come up with ideas and new ways of doing things," she gushes.

"Yes dude your advertising campaign submissions last year were amazing; you'll be an Ad Guru someday," Tanveer chips in.

"Don't know about that, my Dad really wants me to take over his business. He is facing challenging times with global biggies setting up shop in Bombay." His father hopes for him to return and take over Ahuja Financial Services an advisory and investment management firm he has built with a great deal of perseverance from scratch twenty five years ago.

Tanveer sits back in his chair and asks, "I wonder where our careers will take us and what would become of us. Who knows if we will remain close friends as we are now?"

"Time flies na? It seems like yesterday when Vicky and I met you. It was a couple of weeks before Sam took me to Jazz and Blues and sang 'the way you look tonight' to me," Tania says to Tanveer with her thoughts going back to the old days and then looks at Sameer.

Tanveer laughs loudly, "Alright, I know he took you there, didn't know he sang to you. Are you going to sing tonight dude?" he asks.

"Oye behave! Tani pie introduce him to some girls you know. It's time he went on his first date," Sameer says with a grin which has Tania in splits. They get up to leave for Athena after Sameer settles the bill. Sam walks ahead to get his car out from a parking spot two buildings away, while Tania and Tanveer wait at the portico of the old Tea Centre as the downpour has now reduced to a steady drizzle and the sun has long disappeared across the sea far behind the monstrous rain clouds.

They park outside at Athena and get out of the car to see Vikram in a t-shirt that reads "FCUK WAR" and cargos stride across from the opposite side of the street with Naina in tow. She is in a stunning black dress and has her hair let loose about her shoulders.

Sameer walks a step forward to embrace them, "Hey, Naina, you're looking great," and looks at Vikram with a sarcastic grin, "An extended noon nap huh Vicky. Why didn't you make it for a game of tennis yesterday?"
Vikram in his cool devil may care tone and demeanour, "Sorry dude, Mum sent me to pick up some relatives at the airport and after that I took Naina shopping. Let's play for sure tomorrow you leave in a few days anyway. You must be busy packing na?" to which Sameer nods.

Naina says a warm hi to everyone while Vikram pats Tania's cheek affectionately and moves to talk to Tanveer saying to him in a hushed tone, "Dude don't worry I have you covered tonight, no thanks needed, and don't say anything about paying me back."

Tanveer gives him a thankful nod though feeling a bit embarrassed of having Vicky or Sam cover for him every time they went out for dinner or to party.
"Dude I keep telling you it's time for you to bag a lady and not carry a ladies bag," Vicky says with a broad grin to which everyone laughs.
"It's Tania's yaar! She asked me to hold it for a minute while she adjusts her hair," he replies looking flabbergasted and turns to move towards Tania quickly giving her back her clutch.

Tanveer remembering how early he got to the tea centre looks at Vicky, "Yaar, you mentioned one hour back you're getting here in five minutes and you walk in here late as usual."

Vikram laughs defensively and puts on an innocent smile, "Really? No dude, I meant you get there in five minutes I will see you at Athena directly," he says winking at Sameer.

"Sure! I'm sure that's what you meant," Tanveer says sarcastically.

Tanveer and Sameer walk in with Naina who tells them excitedly about her advertisement shoot for an ice - cream brand earlier this morning while Tania and Vicky follow a few steps behind discussing the plans for a surprise farewell party at Vicky's Alibaug cottage for Sameer before he goes way.
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