It took me a looooooong time to write the first part, and I enjoyed it of course, but still a loooooooooong time. And there were only 12 views in the first 4 hours. So I wasn’t planning to write a second part, but then I do like this story, and at least a couple of you said you liked it too, so why not? (first part here)
We come back to the b-plot first, Rajkummar’s love for the perky tour guide Parineeti. He is getting ready for a quiet night in bed when she bangs on the door. He opens it to find her drunk and crying. She had a fight with the hot-driver Marco. She caught him with another woman. Rajkummar tries to soothe her, tell her it isn’t her fault, she deserves better, she needs to stop underselling herself and picking these loser guys who just want her for a good time. Pari tells him he’s right, and he’s so smart, and so kind, and such a good friend, and why can’t she fall in love with someone like him? Rajkummar ignores this and tries to help her into bed, but she stops him and seems suddenly sober and clear and says “Yes. Why can’t I fall in love with you? I like you, you are the smartest kindest person I know. You are the person I like talking to more than anyone in the world. You know, this is the only tour where I am ever on time to the bus? And it’s just because I am looking forward to seeing you again.” Rajkummar tries to laugh it off and focuses on getting her shoes off, but she touches his shoulder, and then his face, and then bends down and kisses him. She pulls back, with a big smile, clearly she liked it. And then she passes out. Rajkummar sighs, and arranges her on his bed and gently drapes a blanket over her and murmurs “and tomorrow, you won’t remember any of this”.
And then we cut to the counseling session the next day. Shahrukh is beaming and happy, Rani is quietly glowing, Rajkummar can tell right away that something happened between them the night before. He congratulates them, but reminds them that the distance between them, which he has seen clearly in his observations and which they briefly described in their first session (“our marriage is fine, he has his work and I have my volunteering. No, we don’t sleep in the same bed, but who does once you are over 40?”), did not come up in one night and will not be solved by one night. It will take work. And to that end, he wants to hear Rani’s side of their love story. Rani hesitates and suggests that it’s not important, he already heard everything from Shahrukh, but Rajkummar insists, clearly noticing that she has some reason for hesitating. And he reminds her that this is a safe space and an honest space. If there is something she feels the need to say, this is the time and place to say it.
Rani glances at Shahrukh, then looks down and starts talking to her hands so she doesn’t have to see him. It starts out the same as Shahrukh’s story. She was a sheltered girl from a good family. But her father wasn’t able to drop her to school for a month and she talked him into letting her ride the bus with her friends. She was so excited, that first day, walking along with her friends. And she saw Him, her first love. In the present, Shahrukh preens himself and says “I didn’t realize you even saw me, not on the first day”. Rajkummar sees there’s something else going on and gently says “why don’t you let Rani finish her story. Rani?” Rani grips her hands together, shoots a worried glance at Shahrukh, and then keeps talking. She saw him, her first love, and in the flashback we see Young Shahrukh fade out of focus in the background as she looks past him to a young man at the chai stand by the bus stop. Her friend and she had been planning this for weeks. He was her friend’s cousin, a few years older, and he wrote poetry. Her friend had showed her his poetry and they had written a few notes back and forth and now, with her father out of town and this brief moment of freedom, they could finally meet. It was wonderful. Their eyes met, and she knew they were in love forever. They sat behind the chai stand and shared a cup of tea, she let her lips touch the glass where his had touched. He recited one of his poems to her. And then her friend dragged her away because the bus was leaving, but they promised to meet again the next day.
The next day, she was so excited she could barely breath. But her father was late dropping her, the bus was already running and about to pull out. She just had to see him though, even if it meant missing school. She ran to the chai stand and told him she only had a minute, he said “then we must make it count” and kissed her! She couldn’t believe it! She was stunned and stumbled back to the front of the stand and walked slowly to the bus. She got on it without noticing a thing, her friends were buzzing at her about what happened, she told them about the kiss and swore them to secrecy. They all declared it was so romantic and she must keep meeting him. And they told her it would be easy, the driver held the bus for her today, he is sweet on her, all she has to do is smile at him and he will do whatever she wants. The bus can be her personal car.
They test it the next day. Her friends tell her exactly what to say, “I hate smoking” and then look over at him and see what he does. She is shy about it but follows their instructions, and he throws away his cigarettes! Her friends encourage her on, she is a little scared about it, after all she has pledged her heart to her True Love boyfriend, she shouldn’t be talking to another boy. Especially a dirty little bus driver (yuch!). But her friend says not to worry, she can handle it. She will talk to him, Rani just has to smile in the background. So her friend talks to him, asks him if he can leave them off the bus two blocks before school instead, so they can buy a notebook before class. Rani smiles, he agrees. He lets them off early, and her boyfriend is waiting. Her friend takes them to a mall, they buy Rani her first short dress, she is shy at first, but her boyfriend tells her she is beautiful so she wears it. They spend the day together, out of their school uniforms. They have ice cream, they walk along the beach, they go to a movie and he puts his arm around her and kisses her again. It’s the Greatest Day of Her Life. And then she changes back into her uniform and is waiting outside school for the bus to arrive. She smiles at the driver, and finds a little flower on her seat. She tries not to laugh, after the lovely presents her boyfriend got her, what is a little flower.
Back in the present, Shahrukh has finally had enough. He swears, loudly, and Rani visibly flinches. Rajkummar tries to get him to calm down, tells him to let her finish, but Shahrukh asks “what more is there to say? I’m second best, I’m the bus driver, not good enough for the Princess.” Rani interjects, trying to say she loves him and none of that matters, it was so long ago, but Shahrukh shakes it off, says “How can you say none of it matters? It matters to me! I was a lonely boy that no one noticed, I was nothing, and then you smiled at me and my whole world changed. And it was a lie? It was all a lie? My whole life is a lie, my Self is a lie!” and he storms out. Rani bursts out into heartwrenching tears, Pari opens the door to indicate that the next couple is ready, and Rajkummar waves her away, clearly Rani will get as long as she needs today.
Rajkummar gently encourages her to cry, and then tell him why she is crying. It starts as just a long abuse of herself “I am so worthless, so foolish. I used him, and he is the best man in the world. I’ve spent 27 years trying to make it up to him and now it has all come out. I don’t deserve him, I don’t deserve anything, my whole life is a lie.” Rajkummar soothes her and tells her he doesn’t think it was a lie at all. Because she loves Shahrukh now, and that is a truth. And why doesn’t she finish telling him how she came to love him?
Rani picks her story up again. For 5 months, everything was perfect, she was happier than she had ever been. Every morning, Shahrukh would let them off 2 blocks before the school, they told him it was because Rani loved jalabis and wanted to go to the stand there. And then she would meet her boyfriend. Sometimes they would spend the day together, sometimes they would just have a few minutes, but it was always wonderful. He wrote her poetry, so much poetry. And he bought her gifts, beautiful gifts, books and silk scarves and a little silver bracelet. She was sure they would be in love for ever, all her friends thought it was so romantic and perfect. And then one morning, he wasn’t there. She didn’t think anything of it, but he wasn’t there the next morning either. She was worried, didn’t know what to do, but looked over the poetry he wrote her and his gifts and reassured herself that he really loved her and they would be together forever. And then the next morning she went to the bus stop like usual and all her friends were whispering together. They stopped when she arrived and one of them was pushed forward as a spokesperson. With a serious face and a dramatic flourish, she pulled out a wedding card. Rani’s boyfriend was getting married. Rani couldn’t believe it, just stared at the card while her friend explained. It was terrible, it was no fair, he wanted to be a poet but his father was forcing him into the family business and making him marry this girl from his engineering class. So sad, so mean. Rani whispered “but, what about me? Did he send a message?” Her friend hesitates for a second then says, “well, no…. But I am sure he wanted too! He is probably just too heartbroken to think of it. And anyway, he is on a trip now with his fiancee and her family to look at her family home. But probably he meant to write you a note before he left, only he was so busy, he forgot. It’s SO SAD.”
In the present, Rani tries to explain how she was feeling at that moment. All her friends wanted her to break down, wanted her to cry, and she just didn’t feel it, she didn’t feel anything. She didn’t feel anything all day while they all gave her sympathetic looks and hand squeezes and whispered about her behind their hands. The only time she felt like crying was when she was getting off the bus and suddenly froze on the steps, forgetting where she was for a moment when she saw the chai stand through the doors. And the driver asked her “are you all right?” and he sounded so kind, and so sympathetic, it almost made her cry. She managed to shake her head and get down, and then walk home. Her mother was worried about her too, let her skip dinner and go to bed early because she looked so odd. She went to her room and pulled out her secret box of treasures, all the presents he’d given her and all the poems and went through them one by one, one last time, before putting them in a bag to throw away. But she stopped when she came to the little flower the bus driver had given her that same day, she saved it to remember the moment by and somehow it ended up in this box. She held it for a moment and felt better. And then she got out another box, a little cardboard shoebox (not the special carved wood box for her boyfriend’s presents) and dug through the cards from her friends and little pretty stones from the beach and all the other girlish stuff until she had picked out every gift from the bus. She set them all aside and determined that the next day she would return them and tell the driver that she had just been using him. She didn’t want him to feel like she was feeling now, betrayed and small, suddenly aware that what she thought was a great love was just a time pass.
The next day, she planned to get there early and talk to the driver before everyone else came. But then her friends were there before her and she just couldn’t face it, more sympathetic looks and pity. So instead she hid and got on the bus at the last minute. She didn’t sit in her usual seat either, she sat all the way at the front in the seat right behind the driver. He noticed too, gave her a look but didn’t say anything. She let everyone else get off the bus first too and then looked out at the school and couldn’t make herself move. The driver asked her again, “are you all right?” and she found herself asking “can I spend the day with you?” It was an impulse, she wasn’t thinking, she just didn’t want to get off the bus and spend the day at school with more pity. But she knew it was the right thing because as soon as he said “of course” she felt something inside her relax. They drove the bus back to the lot and she hid when his supervisor came out to check it. Then after he left, she helped him clean it, laughing a little when she got wet from the hose, and enjoying the sunshine and doing something completely different with someone completely different. Afterwards, he took her for jalabis “because he knew she liked them” and she felt a little guilty for a moment, but then he made her laugh by showing her how he could eat jalabis with no hands by picking them right off the plate with his mouth and she forgot it, and instead tried to do it too. It was a wonderful day, and at the end when they came back to school and all her friends gave her sympathetic looks and asked where she was, she found herself lying and saying she just walked around a bit and was feeling much better. She didn’t want them to know, it was too special. And she went home that night and pulled out the special carved box and carefully put all the driver’s gifts in it, along with the washing clothe she’d used today to help clean the bus, to remember.
Back in the present, Rani explains “that’s when I fell in love with him. It was my own foolishness I wasn’t in love with him all along, I used him. And I lied to him, months later when he kissed me and proposed, I told him it was my first kiss and he was my first love. I didn’t think it was a lie, because I didn’t love anyone else the way I loved him and his kisses weren’t like anyone else’s kisses. But it was, and I have been lying to him for 27 years. What right do I have to his kisses and his love when it all started out wrong?”
Rajkummar soothes her, and then drops some wise words on her. She has been carrying this guilt inside for years, and it’s not healthy, for her or their marriage. Whenever she wanted something from Shahrukh, more time, more attention, a vacation, she felt she didn’t have the right to ask for it. And so their marriage was happy when he was giving her, freely, everything she needed. But he can’t read her mind. She can’t be afraid to say what she wants from him, because if she doesn’t say it, he won’t think she wants anything, won’t think she wants him. And Rani’s face suddenly changes as she flashes back to all those little moments of their marriage, the times Shahrukh apologized for working late and she said “it’s fine”, the times he offered to sleep in the study and she said “whatever you want”, and finally the night before when she had taken the initiative and kissed him and he had smiled so largely and carried her to bed.
Meanwhile, Shahrukh is on his own journey. He has gone down to the hotel bar and is drinking. Pari comes over and sits next to him. He says abruptly, “Did they send you after me? I don’t want to talk about it!” Pari shrugs and says “fine with me, I’ve got nothing to talk about. But so long as I am sitting with you I can say I’m working and still have a drink.” Shahrukh accepts this excuse and goes back to drinking and Pari silently sits with him. After a bit, she takes a stab and says “Your wife is very beautiful. Almost makes me want to wear a sari, the way she wears them”. That’s enough to open him up, Shahrukh snorts and says “Ha! Beautiful! Too beautiful for one man. No, turns out I am only second choice. Or maybe third or fourth, who knows?” Pari frowns “but, that’s better, right? She had so many choices, and she picked you. It must mean she really loves you.” Shahrukh isn’t ready to be cheered up, “Or else she settled. Gave up on the one she really wanted and picked the poor bus driver with the dirty hands and the bad English.” Pari sets down her glass and glares at Shahrukh, “Okay, fine, I am done being subtle! I don’t know how Rajkummar has the patience to work with you people. I was just trying to help him out and save him from listening to one more person complain when he is already overloaded, but I am done! You are an idiot. Your wife is beautiful and wonderful and loves you more than air and you would have to be a blind man not to see it. And if that isn’t enough for you, just because she may have loved another man some time in the past, than I don’t know what is!” Shahrukh is angry because he knows she is telling the truth and sets down his own glass and blurts out “If I’m blind, so are you. Rajkummar is in love with you and you are too blind to see it, so who is the real idiot here?” And then he storms off, leaving Pari stunned behind him.
Shahrukh walks the streets of Paris (I’ve decided the tour is in Paris now), seeing romantic couples in love everywhere, and it all just makes him sadder. He flashes back on the happy moments of him and Rani from the past. He sees a young couple on a scooter and remembers their romantic elopement, picking her up from her house in the middle of the night on his scooter. He sees a couple kissing under a street light and remembers their first night in his tiny rented room. He sees a pregnant woman and her husband and remembers surprising her with their first nicer apartment when she was pregnant. Sees a young family, and remembers their daughters’ 5th birthday party and sneaking a kiss. And then he sees the older couple they met on the first day of the tour, holding hands and smiling at each other and suddenly pictures himself and Rani as that older couple. He has gone from bitter memories to hope, as he remembers all they have built up together and doesn’t want to throw it away.
Shahrukh quietly unlocks the door of the dark hotel room and sees Rani on the bed, seemingly sleeping. He moves over to the couch and takes off his shoes and settles there. He falls asleep and wakes up to see Rani cuddled next to him on the narrow couch. He asks “what are you doing here?” She says “I wanted you”. He frowns “the bed would be more comfortable, it’s all right, you can go there”. Rani keeps her head turned away and softly says “No bed is comfortable without you. I haven’t slept for 5 years, since you started sleeping in the study. I slept better on a mat on the floor with you in our first apartment than I do all alone in our big bed.” Shahrukh is confused, “I thought you wanted that. You never said….” Rani turns so he can see her face and explains “I never said because I didn’t think I had the right to say. I thought it was what you wanted, I thought my wants didn’t matter. But I never meant for you to think I didn’t want you. I do. You are all I want or need in the world, you are my world, and you have been for 27 years. I didn’t fall in love with you at first sight, but that’s only because I didn’t see you clearly. Believe me, please, you are the love of my life.” Shahrukh is humbled now, murmurs “it doesn’t matter, you don’t have to say…” But now Rani is confident, she tells him “no, wait, let me show you something” and hops out of bed and runs over to her purse and rummages for a moment and then runs back to show him a little beaded bag, “I carry this with me always, since I was 18 years old” and then she opens the bag and shakes it out on her hand and shows him “you see? This is the little card you left me, and the flower, I put it between paper to protect it. And here is the pendent, and plastic ring, and little heart. And here is a bit of newspaper from the jalabi wrapping the first day you took me out, and a stone from the beach that day you showed me your favorite place and told me about your father, and this is the lock of hair I asked you for when you asked for mine, and here is the thread we took from the temple before we got married.” She runs out of energy and finally says “and here is my mangalsutra. I’ve worn it every day since you put it on me, you bought me that fancy one for our 10th anniversary, remember? But I never wanted it, I leave it in the bank, I just want this one, the one you put on me on our wedding day. I don’t need the gold and the money, I just need you.” Shahrukh is stunned, reaches out and gently touches her face and murmurs “I didn’t know. I thought you were tired of me. I thought I bored you. I thought…” Rani stops him by kissing him.
Happy love song! The days slip by, the tour goes through Paris, then Warsaw, then Switzerland (I have no idea if this is a reasonable tour, I am very weak on European geography). Shahrukh surprises Rani with little presents, they dance and sing and kiss all over Europe, and they also play silly games in the evening, and cry and laugh a little during counseling sessions, and generally do the good work of restarting their marriage. And in the background, Rajkummar moons over Pari who flirts with Marco. And then Pari surprises him by dragging him with them to clubs, seeking him out for lunches, very mixed signals.
It ends with a counseling session, where Rani and Shahrukh are excitedly talking about how they will spend the next 3 days with their daughter and her husband and babies. Rajkummar tells them this is good, because their marriage is on a solid footing now, but it is fragile. It will be easy to go back into old patterns when they pick up the threads of real life. This will be a test for them. It was the pressure of real life that drove them apart to begin with, now they will have to see if the new tools of communication and honesty they have learned can keep them close even under stress.
Rani and Shahrukh go into the family visit with this in mind. Right before their daughter opens her door they exchange “I love you”s. And then they enter into choas. Their daughter (let’s say Mehrene Pirzada from Phillauri) is thrilled to see them. The baby is teething and crying all the time, the toddler is sick and throwing up, they still haven’t finished unpacking, she is so happy her parents are here to help. Her husband comes out, sweeps up the toddler and stops cleaning off the spit-up like this is a routine, and also says how glad he is to see them both. Rani starts helping right away, takes the baby and sends her daughter to have a nap, and starts ordering Shahrukh about opening boxes and setting things up. Late that night, while Rani and Shahrukh are putting the babies to bed, Mehrene calls her sister Sara and they talk about their parents. She tells her how much happier they seem, it’s like they are newlyweds! Sara asks if they know about “the surprise”, Mehrene says no, they have no idea. Sara and Mehrene agree that the problem is, how to get them ready? Mehrene suggests she say it is a party for her Italian friends and family, that she asks Rani for help setting it up Indian style. Sara agrees.
And so Rani has a new responsibility, Mehrene asks for help organizing a party. She has the hall, but needs new clothes (and Rani should get new clothes too) and advice on how to set it up and the menu and so on. Rani leaps in right away, but this time Shahrukh can’t help. He is more and more set aside as she rushes about and fusses and helps get the kids ready and so on. He finds himself talking with his son-in-law as they are both waiting for the women to be dressed and ready. He says something about how hard it is to be romantic when you feel more like you are running a marathon just getting through the day. The son-in-law smiles and says yes, but all he has to do is look at his wife, and he remembers that she is the most beautiful woman in the world and all the reasons he loves her. Shahrukh is thoughtful. At the event, everyone is gathering and making polite small talk. Rani is rushing around supervising. And suddenly, a song starts. Rani turns, and it’s Shahrukh! He is serenading her! Which turns into a dance number, Rani is drawn in and singing back. Soon Mehrene and her husband join as well, and in the middle of it there is a new voice….Sara!!!! She has arrived from India to surprise them! The whole family is together! And once she is there, she and Mehrene pull a cord to reveal a banner, it is an anniversary party for Shahrukh and Rani! And their tour group is there as well, and everyone is dancing together joyously!
The one small unhappiness is with Pari. She is dancing with Marco, but then he leaves her to dance with Sara. She goes off to stand in a corner, sad. Marco is flirting with Sara, she is laughing. They come over by Pari and don’t notice her, she huddles down in her chair so they won’t see her, and overhears Marco inviting Sara back to his hotel room. Sara laughs at him and says “No thank you Marco. Your charm my work on some silly girls who fall for the glitz without the substance, but that’s not me. Why don’t you go back to seducing silly young girls who don’t know what love is? Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I see a real man over there and I want to get to know him better.” And then she coolly strolls off and over to Rajkummar, to touch his shoulder and make him laugh. Pari stays huddled in her chair, crying, looking between Marco starting a flirtation with a young Italian relative of Mehrene’s husband, and Rajkummar and Sara laughing together. She sees Rajkummar glance at her and start to get up to go to her, waves him off and dredges up a smile and manages to get out of the room and onto a balcony where she starts to cry.
And then a hand comes over and silently hands her a handkerchief. She takes it, sniffs, says “thank you”, and then turns to Rajkummar looking sympathetically at her. She sniffs again and says “you shouldn’t be here, you should go back inside and be with Sara, you were having such a good time with her.” Rajkummar frowns, says “how can I have a good time when my friend is unhappy?” Pari sniffs again and forces a smile “I’m happy! See? I’m happy. You take care of everyone all the time, you deserve a chance to be happy for yourself. And Sara is wonderful. Smart and educated and with a great job, she’s just right for you. She’s the kind of woman you deserve. I’m just a silly little girl that men use and forget. I’m no good for you, not a nice man who care about things, who could maybe really make me happy….” And then she stops herself before saying anything more. Rajkummar reaches out and takes her hand and says “You are right, you aren’t the woman I deserve. You are funny and warm and loving. You make me try new things and remind me that I am not an old man yet. You are so much more than I deserve, but maybe if I am very lucky I will get you anyway. I love you. I’ve loved you for the past two years. Never feel like you are undeserving of love, like you aren’t good enough.” Pari is stunned, “you love me?” Rajkummar nods and starts to turn away, Pari grabs him says “Wait!” Rajkummar turns back and Pari starts working things out as she speaks, “I never thought you loved me! I never thought anyone like you could love me. I think, maybe, I went after Marco and all the other “marco”s because I knew what they wanted, I knew they were just interested in sex and a good time and I knew I could give them that. But, maybe, somewhere deep inside I kept hoping that someday I might be good enough for you. And in the meantime, at least I could be your friend. But Rajkummar, I don’t want to be your friend. Not any more. I want more than that.” And then she reaches out and kisses him again.
HAPPY ENDING. 2 Years Later. Another tour bus, this time Rani is giving the tour guide speech and it is driving down an Indian coastal highway. And Rani’s introduction speech explains what has changed. Their driver is her lovely husband, and owner of the company, Shahrukh. They are enjoying a semi-retirement together now that their wonderful daughter has taken over their company. And they are enjoying traveling through India with all these wonderful couples, and of course their business partner Rajkummar, the brilliant counselor. And as a special treat on this trip, they are joined by his wife Pari (Pari is sitting in the seat heavily pregnant and complaining at Rajkummar who is hovering around her). Rani takes her seat behind Shahrukh, drops a kiss on his neck, and the bus takes off as they both smile.