Synopsis: 25 year old Dr. Sanaa Sharma was content to go along with her life following her parents' wishes for her until she met heiress and philanthropist Andrea Wittington. Little did she known that agreeing to chaperone the foreigner around India would change her life in more ways than one and open her eyes to the possibility of a fairytale love that she had never believed existed. But when outside influences put hurdles in her path, will she choose to fight the tempest or will she settle for whatever the easiest path offers…..

  Disclaimers: Nothing much, really, at this point. Adult scenes will come most probably in the next part. This is my first ever attempt at writing a story. So kindly forgive me for any and all errors. All feedback is welcome. Do mail me at

An Indian Odyssey





“Let me just fill out this prescription for you & then you can leave” said Sanaa to the 100 th patient of the day in the outpatient clinic of her hospital. Just like a 100 other post-graduates in the busy teaching hospital, she was over-worked and exhausted from seeing so many patients in one day in her Ophthalmology department. Her eyes were strained from looking through the tiny slit lamp and ophthalmoscope lenses all day long when her mentor and department boss approached her. Dr.Mandira had a commanding presence which could make anyone in any department in the hospital stand up. She was a great surgeon and was credited for bringing up the Ophthalmology department from a small closet in the hospital corner to an institute of international repute at the forefront of pioneering interventions.

She said “Sanaa, I'm sorry to impose upon you but I need a favour.” Sanaa used the last of her resources to make herself look alert and interested and said “Sure Ma'am, I'll do whatever you need.”

“I know you are one of the few postgraduate residents with a car. We have a representative coming from the Jenson Whittington foundation today and I was supposed to pick her up at the airport. But I have a pressing hospital committee meeting to attend to. I want someone to receive her who can hold a half-way decent conversation in English. So you are to go as my replacement to receive her. You can take my driver for your car. I've sent his number to your phone. Just remember, this person is very important to me. If our deal comes through, it would be a major leap for our outreach and free programmes. She could become one of our biggest benefactors. Just don't do anything to put her off.”

Sanaa was already nervous and started thinking up all sorts of scenarios where the exact wrong thing could happen, right from spilling her coffee on the woman to having a flat and leaving her stranded at the airport. On the outside, however, she put on a brave face and said “ Alright, I'll pick her up Ma'am and I'll be sure to be on my best British behaviour”

“Hmmm, lose the false British accent. She's American is what I've heard. Just be yourself and act normal. She's quite a casual person. “

“Alright. I'll do that.” she said, wondering what in the world ‘be normal' meant when you've been given such a huge responsibility.

“Just don't make her change her mind about donating to our hospital. We have too many people from within the hospital eyeing this source. And, by the way, you better leave now or you'll be late. Her flight arrives at 12 to the main terminal at the Bangalore airport”

“Damn. Oops sorry. I mean I should be out of here soon then. Bye Ma'am.” She turned to leave when she heard Dr. Mandira calling after her “Hey don't you want to know her name or any other identification before you go looking for her?” she said with a wry smile.

Sanaa turned around sheepishly and said “ Oh right I forgot. What's this mystery woman's name?”

“Andrea Whittington.”

“Oh. THE Andrea Wittington herself? Seriously? She is coming personally to see our hospital?”

“Yes. Now why are you so surprised by that. We aren't such a hole in the wall place. We are, after all, a regional institute. Besides I met her at the Toronto International conference and found her to be very down to earth. Her arrival here is a result of our talk there.”

“It's just that the main boss herself is coming for a visit meaning that this must be big. Are you sure you don't want me to take any of the other senior Professors with me when I go to receive her?”

“I'm not sure that they won't send her packing on the next plane. Besides, as I said, she's quite casual and about your age group. So you'd be fine. She'll be meeting the senior faculty members at a meeting tomorrow anyways.” she paused and said “One more thing. Remember this visit is strictly to be under the radar. She likes her privacy. So let her decide how she wants to go about making her decisions. But don't tell anyone in other departments about her arrival. Otherwise all those power-hungry vultures in admin will swoop down on her.”

“Ok Ma'am I won't let you down. I'll deposit her in her hotel in one piece – no questions asked.” She saluted and left.



Andrea Whittington alighted from the aircraft and regarded the busy terminal around her. She ran her fingers through her short dark brown hair and wondered what had brought her here for the umpteenth time. She knew she was running away just to avoid the heartbreak that was Paris to her now. “Let's not go there, Andy”, she told herself as she walked through the airport with her bags towards the exit “At least I'll be able to do something hands-on with the foundation for the first time” she thought.

Andrea was the first and only child of billionaire Carson Whittington who had made all his money on the stock market and then decided at the early age of 40 to pour it all into philanthropy. So he got together with his closest buddy Joe Jenson, who had made his money in mid-west oil and started the Jenson Whittington foundation. The concept took off and they had donors from all over the world contributing to their coffers. The foundation in return had spread its wings to all countries and was making its presence felt in several fields, especially in health care and education. Carson and Joe still held their posts on the board of directors but Carson had been grooming his kid for taking over the foundation from a very early age. From taking her on trips through African jungles to visits to hospitals in every country, she had been exposed to different cultures and people in all walks of life born to different stations. Teaching the basics of computers to African kids and helping build homes in hurricane-hit areas, she had learnt to appreciate and respect the foundation's work. She had decided early during her college stay that she would spend her life making sure that the money was used for appropriate purposes and reached the target people. Her trip to India was the first that she had made on her own without her usual posse of assistants. She wanted this to be a getaway trip more than a ‘work trip'.

She looked around the crowded airport and marvelled how so many people could be fitted into such a limited space. It never failed to amaze her how India could house more than a billion people. But as people-watching was one of her favourite activities, she loved her visits to the sub-continent though it wasn't really a perfect tourist destination. This was her first visit to the southern part of the country. As she walked out of the airport into the sunny receiving area, she wondered where her reception committee was. She had specifically told the director of the hospital to keep her visit low key. Otherwise she was going back on the first flight home. Dr.Mandira had seemed to understand her wishes and told her that she would be there to receive her personally and to leave her alone after that. Andrea had met her in a conference in Toronto the previous year where she was speaking about some of their activities in Ophthalmology in South America when the director had asked whether the same projects could be implemented in India as well. She had looked into it and decided that they very well could and that such projects were in need here. The main purpose of Andrea's visit was to oversee the hospital activities and to figure out the logistics of the programme.

She was just starting to wonder whether she had been stood up that she spotted a chauffeur holding a sign with her name on it. As she walked up to him, she couldn't help noticing the woman standing next to him who seemed like she was part of the welcoming committee. She was an Indian woman of average height, fair skinned with dark hair and dark eyes. She had nice curves which seemed to be hidden by a long tunic top. Andy eyed her appreciatively hidden behind her sunglasses as she approached them to introduce herself.




Sanaa was on the verge of a heat stroke and was cursing herself for not waiting in the car and allowing the driver to pick up her quarry. New security regulations ensured that she couldn't enter into the airport without a valid ticket. She was also getting bored and to pass away her time, she started to imagine what Andrea Whittington looked like. She was born to money and power, so she must be the ultimate snob and would probably turn her nose up at everything over here. She sighed and thought “Just my luck to be stuck with this assignment.” At least if she had been in the out-patient department, by now she would have finished seeing her patients and could have been on her way home. She was struck out of her musings by a pretty blonde woman walking towards her. Her mind screamed princess-alert and she immediately straightened up and put out her best smile and offered her hand to the woman saying “Hi. I'm Sanaa Sharma, one of the post-graduate residents working in Leela hospital in Ophthalmology. I'm sorry that Dr.Mandira couldn't make it. She got caught up in a hospital issue. I'll be taking you to your hotel and later the hospital once you wish to do so.”

The woman looked at her in confusion and replied something in French, or at least that's what Sanaa thought it was. From behind her, another woman emerged and she spoke to the blonde woman in the same language. They both nodded and the blonde left with the confusion seemingly sorted out.

Sanaa stared at the newcomer and was struck by one thing which was her height. She was tall, at least a head taller than Sanaa herself, with boyishly cut short dark hair. As the woman pulled off her sunglasses and held her hand out to her, Sanaa was taken aback by the palest pair of blue eyes that she had seen. She almost didn't catch the woman's next words introducing herself. Her mind shook itself out of its stupor as she heard the word Whittington.

“Hi, Dr.Sharma. I heard your wrongly directed intro that you gave to the French woman. I'm Andrea Whittington. Thank you for coming to receive me”, said Andrea.

‘Ooohhh, this wasn't who I pictured', Sanaa thought as she extended her hand and let it be engulfed in the much larger hands of the attractive stranger. She replied, “It's my pleasure Miss. Whittington. Please call me Sanaa. I'm here to take you to your hotel and then to give you a tour of the hospital.”

“I've had a long flight. I would just like to relax in my hotel for a bit, if you don't mind. Can you drop me off there? I could do the hospital tour tomorrow.”

“Sure, head this way to the car. Where's the rest of your luggage?” Sanaa asked her.

Andrea looked at the backpack in her hand and shrugged “This is it.”

Sanaa was taken aback “Must be a really short visit if you can manage with just that little bag, Miss. Whittington”, she said.

Andrea replied “I've got used to travelling light since I spent a lot of time in places where I couldn't take any luggage. Besides, this trip was a bit of a last minute plan though I've been meaning to come here for quite some time. I was in Paris doing some work for the foundation when I had a sudden opening in my schedule. It's alright, Sanaa. I'll survive. And please call me Andy.”, she said and winked.

For some reason that she couldn't explain, Sanaa blushed. She turned away and got busy with opening the car's luggage compartment. After they settled into the car, Sanaa turned towards Andy and said “Welcome to Bangalore or Bengaluru as we call it now. I just want to tell you that I've heard so much about you and your foundation and I'm really excited to see how you could help in improving our hospital. Could you tell me something about your plans here?”

“Hmmm, Sanaa”

Sanaa, who usually hated other people mispronouncing her name, somehow seemed to like how her name rolled off Andy's lips with her American accent.

“I'm not sure myself. I want to have a look at the hospital as a whole and also specifically at the functioning of the Ophthalmology department. I was hoping you all can take me along to some of the outlier camps that your director mentioned that your department was running. Then we can decide how much funds we need to cover for the programme and then work out the logistics.”

“Andy, how long are you planning to stay here? I don't think what you are saying is something that can be completed in a week's time”

“I'll stay as long as it takes to get the job done. As I said before, my schedule opened up as I wrapped up another project early. This is my personal pet project and I intend to see it through. If this takes off, we might be able to start working better on other Indian projects. I'm looking at a month of stay at present but I may extend it longer if needed. By the way, where will I be staying? Dr.Mandira said that she would look after my accommodation.”

“You will be staying at the Sheraton hotel. I would have thought a person such as yourself would have a personal secretory hanging on to her arm”, Sanaa said with a smile to make her understand that she was just teasing Andy. For some inexplicable reason, she felt comfortable around this woman.

Andy was feeling the same way and was trying to put her finger on the reason. I'll get back to it later, she thought and answered Sanaa's question “I do have a personal secretary. Her name's Madison and she is a 60 year old grandmother of two.”, she added though she couldn't figure out why. “I gave her time off this time because this was primarily an escape visit.”

“Huh. What do you need to escape from?” Sanaa enquired and then wanted to smack herself for being too forward.

Andy had a thoughtful expression on her face and replied “Life. Just life. Anyways tell me about yourself. Are you from Bangalore ?”

Taking the cue to change the topic, Sanaa launched into her biography. “No. I was born and brought up in Delhi but I did my undergrad here and continued in the same hospital for my postgrad in ophthalmology too. I'm planning to do further Fellowship in cataract surgery in the same hospital.”

Andrea looked at her thinking she appeared awfully young to be a postgraduate. She would've guessed her to be about twenty putting her at least nine years younger than Andy herself. She noticed the diamond and platinum ring glittering on Sanaa's ring finger and asked her “You're married?”

Sanaa saw Andy's eyes on her ring and laughed “No I'm not.” Then she casually took the ring and changed it to her other hand.

“Oh. I'm sorry. I thought it was a wedding ring.”

“We don't wear rings when we get married here. The husband has to tie a chain around the girl's neck. I'm just wearing the ring for fashion. I'm not married. Yet. Not for my mother's lack of trying.”, she said and sighed.

Andy was intrigued by the look of melancholy on Sanaa's face and asked “What do you mean?”

“Oh, nothing. It's just that no matter how many degrees I have, in my parents' eyes, I'm a 27 year old girl who is still unmarried. We still have to follow certain customs in this country. And that includes getting married to the guy your parents choose for you.”

“But how can you just marry a guy that you don't know. Don't you believe in finding your true love and marrying that person?”

“If I have to keep my family, I cannot afford to believe in all that Disney fairy-tale nonsense. So how did we get into these deep topics in our first meeting itself? Anyways, enough about me. Tell me about yourself, Miss Whittington. How does it feel to be the one touching so many lives and making a difference in this world?”

“Hmmm. Such praise for me when you didn't even know what I looked like half an hour ago.”, Andy grinned.

Sanaa blushed but decided to come clean “I had heard so much about you on the news but I've never actually seen your picture. While I was waiting for you in the airport, I was trying to pass my time by imagining how you would look like before I looked up your image on Google.”, she said sheepishly.

“And what did you imagine I would look like? The blonde Barbie princess that you accosted at the airport?”

“I'm sorry but considering your lineage, that's how I presumed you to be. I was surprised when I actually met you.”, Sanaa blushed as she looked away from Andy.

Andy laughed at her candour and said “You get points for being honest but tell me – was it a good surprise or a bad surprise” she asked and leaned towards Sanaa in the backseat of the car, looking into her eyes.

Sanaa reddened further and said quietly “Looking at how far our conversation has gone, I would have to say it was a good surprise. Dr.Mandira told me you would be casual but I didn't expect someone so down to earth. Okay don't distract me Miss. Whittington. Tell me about yourself.”

“Alright. I'm 29 years old and I'm the executive director of the Jenson Whittington foundation. I have a Masters in accounting and did my MBA in Harvard. I've been working here for 4 years”

“Wow I never pictured you as an accountant”

“I'm not an accountant” Andy growled.

Sanaa slyly smiled and said “Then what about the accounting degree?”

“I was good in Math.” She replied indignantly.

“Anyways you just told me the Wikipedia version of you. Now, the real story?”

“Hmm… Getting personal huh Dr. Sanaa. Considering you hadn't googled me yet, this is a good starting point.” she said and laughed at the embarrassment on Sanaa's face. “Don't fret. It's nice to meet someone who presumes to know my entire life story after reading my Wikipedia profile and a couple of gossip rags.”

Just then, their car stopped and their driver told them they had reached.

Sanaa laughed and said “Oh no. We've arrived so your biography needs to be postponed.”

Andy got out of the car and just smiled at Sanaa and said “Alright. I promise to tell you my life story if you promise that you wouldn't google me.”

“Ok. Deal” was what she got from a giggling Sanaa.

Andy picked up her backpack from the car and kept sneaking glances at the dark-haired woman with whom she had hit it off so well. It had been a long time since she had had fun just talking to someone. Be careful, Andy, she told herself. You're just out of a breakup. Everyone knows India is a homophobic country. ‘Better not to flirt and get into trouble here.' She thought. ‘Better hold on to her though. She could keep your trip fun and keep you from dwelling too much on Marie.'

Andy checked into the hotel and turned towards Sanaa and asked her, “As much as I liked your company today, I don't want to put you out any further. I'm sure you have a busy schedule. Besides, I like to do things quite spontaneously and may not have a plan for visiting at a particular time. So, could you tell me how to arrange for a cab?”

Sanaa appeared to think and told her, “Actually, I live just a little down the road. I could pick you on the way to work or if you give me a call, I could arrange for Dr.Mandira's driver to pick you up. You could use Uber. But a cab may not be available as soon as you call and then you'd be left to haggle with the auto-rickshaws outside. I'm sure they would have a field day with a foreigner.” With that, she took a piece of paper from her purse and noted her number and gave it to Andy “So, this is my number. Give me a call anytime. And in case you get bored of work and just want to do sight-seeing, use my number.”

Andy smiled at her friendly companion and said “I've never had such a helpful guide before.”

“Well. Dr. Mandira did tell me that if you didn't give us a grant, I was toast. She told me to be on my best behaviour. So there.” Sanaa said and saluted Andy with a grin. “A suite has already been reserved her under your name. I'll leave you now to get some rest and to get settled in. Do you think you will be able to make it tomorrow? We have an academic session in our department at 8 o'clock and all the people in the department would be there. I'm sure you would be jet-lagged”

“My jet-lag takes a couple of days to set in so I think I can make it. I'll probably discuss it with Dr. Mandira tonight.”

“Alright. I'll come and pick you up at 730 AM tomorrow morning. Goodbye.”, Sanaa said and waved as Andy walked into the luxury hotel.





Andrea awoke the next day morning feeling like she'd been ambushed. God, that long plane trip really got to me, she thought, as she showered and got ready for her first visit to the Leela hospital. She had already spoken with Dr.Mandira the previous night and they had decided that she could get introduced to the key players in the department today at the session. She sent a text to Sanaa that she was ready and got a prompt positive reply. As she came downstairs, she stopped midway on the staircase, frozen at the sight of Sanaa standing in the lobby in a red sari. She looked absolutely breath-taking with the smallest amount of skin showing at her sides, just enough to be enticing without giving too much away. It draped over her curves sensuously and Andy wondered how it was removed. As her subject of admiration turned around, she slapped herself mentally to stop thinking such thoughts and gave her a smile.

Sanaa, who was wandering aimlessly in the lobby, caught her breath as her eyes met Andy's. She had never really thought about how good a suit looked on a woman but she realised Andy pulled off the black pantsuit beautifully.

“Shall we go?” she spoke quietly to Andy, wondering all the while why she was whispering as if a loud sound would spoil their eye contact. Andy also just managed to catch herself from taking Sanaa's hand or putting her hand on her back where a small hint of bare skin could be seen.

On their way to the hospital, Sanaa tried to distract herself from her disconcerting thoughts about how good Andy looked by making random conversation. She pointed out all the local jaunts on the way to the hospital. Andy decided there were as many shopping malls in this place as there were in America and every one of them seemed filled with people. She also realised she needed to get more clothes if this was going to be longer trip than expected.

They arrived at the hospital and Sanaa left for her morning rounds after dropping her off in the director's room. Andy had to consciously turn away from the view of Sanaa's swaying hips as she walked towards the wards. Andy straightened up her suit before knocking on the Director's door. It was opened immediately by Dr.Mandira who had a beaming smile on her face.

“Welcome, Andrea. I'm so sorry that I couldn't make it yesterday. I got stuck in hospital politics.”, she smiled apologetically. “I wasn't sure that you would be able to come here so soon after your arrival.”

“I'm alright and the hotel you have chosen for me was very comfortable. So I got a good night of sleep, Mandira.”

“I hope you didn't have any problems getting to the hotel from the airport yesterday and coming over here today?”

“No no. Your post-graduate, Sanaa was with me the entire time and was very obliging. If everyone here is as enthusiastic as she is, I'm sure we won't have any problems getting our project off the ground. You're lucky to have her among your students.”, said Andrea.

Dr.Mandira beamed and said “Thank you. I think very highly of her too. I'm hoping to get her involved in the project so that I can convince her to stay on here after she completes her course. We need energetic young doctors to take ophthalmic care to the most remote parts of the area and she's the right candidate for the job. I've got a few more people who would be involved that I would like to introduce you to during the meeting.”

“And I look forward to that. And I don't want to be disturbed by other departments and hospitals with new proposals. I've only come for this one specific purpose and I don't want my attention to get diluted.”

“Oh, don't worry, Andrea. You had already made that very clear so I even kept your visit under wraps from most of the hospital administration. I'm hoping we can ambush them with the proposal today.”

Andy laughed and said, “I like your methods, Mandira. Can I present the proposal first to your faculty before we go to the administration? I'd like to hear the feedback from the doctors before we go to the office guys.”

“Yes. That would be fine. I'll call everyone so we can start the meeting now.”


Sanaa was chatting with a patient who had undergone cataract surgery the previous day when her friend, Pari called her and told her to come to the conference hall. Thoughts of the tall American flitted through her mind and she could just imagine her commanding presence at the podium. She found herself wondering who would be the chosen one to go along with Andy for the project. ‘I'm sure every single one of the seniors must be fighting for a place in that team', she thought and shrugged off the mild feeling of jealousy that crept up. She just hoped that she would be the one that Andy called for her sight-seeing trips. ‘I just want an excuse to get a break from the hospital and also show off my beautiful city.', she justified herself as her mind already starting making a list of places that she could take her to.

She entered the small but packed conference hall and proceeded to stand in the back next to her friend as there was no place to sit. She stared at Andy and thought ‘Wow. I was right. She does look like she owns the place sitting up there.'

As Dr.Mandira made the introductions, Sanaa looked around to see everyone watching Andy having a curious look on their faces. She felt ecstatic that she was the only one who had actually spoken to Andy although no one here knew that.

Andy was all business as she took her place in front of the mike and proceeded to show a PowerPoint presentation on the work that she had done in South America . She and her team of doctors and ophthalmic technicians had established fully-equipped mobile eye clinics in the most remote jungles there. They had performed numerous surgeries, mostly for cataracts and had more than halved the rates of preventable blindness in the community. She spoke about implementing a similar project on a pilot basis in the rural regions in the outskirts of Bangalore where there were very few hospitals that dealt with eye care. As she went on about sponsoring lenses and spectacles and conducting eye camps, she held the attention of the entire room.

Sanaa felt like she was going to get goosebumps as she heard not only the message in Andy's talk but also the passion behind it. It seemed like she really cared about improving the lives of people through something as simple as improving a person's vision. Sanaa felt tears prickling her eyes as Andy showed a picture of a child hugging her after regaining his vision after a corneal transplant. She decided then that even if she wasn't the chosen one, she'd do anything to help in Andy's project, even if it meant entering endless paperwork.

Dr.Mandira, who had already introduced the senior faculty to Andy, came back to call out a list of people whom she had chosen to work with Andy on the project. Three of the expected faculty members made their way forward as they were called. Sanaa was imagining how it would be to work in those remote areas when she felt Pari shoving her from behind. “Stop daydreaming. Your name has been called. Go fast.”, Pari said and pushed her forward.

As Sanaa walked towards her, Andy couldn't help but smile at the surprised and dazed look on the bubbly doctor's face. ‘It would be fun working with her' she thought before she reminded herself to act more professional.

Everyone was excused except for the four chosen doctors for the project. Dr.Mandira gave them each of them a specific job. While the other three were to coordinate with different departments and government agencies to start the project, Sanaa was given the responsibility of shepherding Andy to different camp sites. Sanaa was bursting with joy inside but tried to put forth her most professional smile as she held out her hand for Andy to shake.

Andy said, “Looking forward to working with you, Dr.Sanaa.” in a serious voice and followed it up with a mischievous wink.

“Likewise, Miss.Whittington.” said Sanaa with a smirk.


Sanaa was trying to multitask by shovelling ice cream into her mouth while watching the French open on TV. Her best friend and roommate, Pari entered just as she was screaming at Federer for losing the point.

“Don't tell me there's a tennis match going on and that too, God forbid, a Federer match.”, Pari sighed. “You always hog the remote when he's on.”

“Come on. Even a sports dumbo like you can appreciate his game. Besides it's only the first round. So I may let you have the remote in an hour.”

“Whatever. I'm more interested in talking about the new entrant in our department.”

“Oh whom are you talking about?” Sanaa feigned nonchalance and continued to eat her precious ice cream.

“As if you don't know whom I'm talking about. It's the American billionaire who is a woman that you picked up from the airport yesterday and didn't care to tell me about. She's the closest I've come to meeting an actual celebrity. You could've taken me with you yesterday.”

“I couldn't because Dr.Mandira told me to keep her visit quiet. Besides, she's quite a normal person. No airs at all.”

“Are you kidding me? I spent all my free time today googling her.”, exclaimed Pari.

“Oh no no no. I'm not hearing any of this.”, Sanaa said as she jumped up and put her hands on her ears and started singing la la la very loudly.

“What's wrong with you?”, shouted Pari. “Curiosity is part of human nature. And you have to agree she seems like an intriguing woman.”

“I feel like I'm intruding on her privacy.”

“Don't tell me you aren't curious. You couldn't take your eyes off her at the meeting.”

“Yes. That's because she a strong, passionate woman who has achieved so much in her field. The feminist in me looks up to her.”, said Sanaa haughtily.

Pari laughed “Yeah that's right. That's all it was. Did you know something? She's a lesbian.”

Sanaa was dumbstruck and she said “Oh” and stared at Pari disbelievingly. “You're making it up.”

“Of course I'm not. Wikipedia is never wrong and I found so many pictures of her with beautiful women in those gossip rags. Most of them were models and actresses.”, she sighed and said “So she's pretty much out of my league anyways.”

“You're not gay.”, shouted Sanaa.

“You said it yourself. She's a strong passionate woman who also looks tall, dark and handsome. Her being a billionaire doesn't hurt either. So I personally wouldn't mind her hitting on me.”

Sanaa looked at Pari as if she had grown two horns and said “Wow. You've really thought this through. Besides, I still think you're just messing with me.”

Pari smiled at Sanaa, “My dear Sanaa. You are so innocent to the ways of the world. I know I'm stereotyping here but her appearance screams gay. You just don't choose to see it because you don't acknowledge that gay people exist in India .”

Pari was from the North-eastern part of India and had grown up in a very liberal society unlike Sanaa who had a very sheltered and orthodox upbringing. Pari looked at Sanaa seriously and said, “What would I gain by lying to you. I'm just stating a fact here. Now I'm thinking I made a mistake mentioning this to you. I know this is going to break your head and you'd never see her the same way again.”

“Oh why wouldn't I? Come on, Pari. I'm not against gay people. I'm just trying to wrap my brain around the fact that she's gay. She seems quite normal though she looks a little tomboyish.”

“Oh my God.”, Pari growled. “Gay people are normal people. I think I need to take you out more, Sanaa. You could come with me the next time I go clubbing on ladies night. I'm sure all the lesbians I know would love to give you a lesson.”

“I am not interested in coming to your clubs and pubs. And I'm not a homophobe. I like Andy as much now as I liked her today morning. So this doesn't change anything.”, she said emphatically.

Pari, who just wasn't done teasing her, tried hard to hide a smile and said, “Oh so you accept that you like her.”

“Of course I like her. Not like you mean though. We could become friends.”, Sanaa replied quite seriously.

“Sure you could be. If she was a guy, you would sound like a harlequin novel – The doctor and the billionaire.”, she said and started laughing.

Sanaa chucked a pillow at her and said “Not funny.”, trying to stop giggling.

Pari looked at her seriously and said, “Seriously, Sanaa. I just need you to know that I'm proud of you that you got the chance to work on the project. You're the best person I know for this job and I'm quite happy for you.”

Sanaa, though a little shocked at the sudden turn in their banter, looked at Pari with a blush and said “Thank you. I love you, my idiotic best friend” and hugged her.

“Okay enough with the serious talk. Did you leave any ice cream for me?”


Just as Sanaa started to reply, she was interrupted by the ringing of her phone. An unknown number greeted her and she picked up the phone saying “Hello, Dr.Sanaa here.”

“Hi, Sanaa.”, the deep, husky voice of Andrea greeted her back.

“Oh Andy. I mean Miss.Whittington. Hi.” Aware that Pari was listening with interest, Sanaa tried to turn away and whisper into the phone.

“Andy is fine outside the hospital. I called to ask you for a favour.”

“Of course, Andy. Anything for you.”

“You saw the size of my luggage. I'm now thinking that I would run out of clothes for the trip.”

“You're thinking that now. I could've told you that yesterday.” Sanaa said and laughed into the phone.

“Yeah. Laugh away at my predicament, doc. Will you take pity on me and tell me where I can go to get some clothes. I saw a few malls on the way but I don't know which one's good for clothes. I could call an uber if you tell me the name of the mall.”

“I'll do one better. If you think your clothes situation will not reach crisis settings in one day, then I'll take you on a shopping trip in the evening tomorrow.”

“Are you sure? I didn't mean to disturb you.”

“You aren't disturbing me. I'm offering and let it not be known that we Indians are not hospitable.”

“So you'd give me the clothes off your back.” Andy teased.

Sanaa giggled and said “I don't think mine would look good on you. Don't worry. I won't make you change your style. When can we meet tomorrow?”

“How about 6? Will your hospital work get done by then?”

“Yes. That should be ok. I'll pick you up from your hotel.”

“That's great. I'll see you tomorrow”, Andy smiled into the phone.

“yes. I look forward to it.”

Sanaa had a soft smile on her face as she ended the call. She turned around to see Pari watching her with a bemused look on her face. “Andy? You just called her Andy? I can't believe it.”

“It's her name, Pari. It's what she wanted me to call her.”

“And what's with the subtle flirting going on? ‘Anything for you, Andy.' ‘I look forward to it, Andy.'”

“Aw shut up. You're just jealous that I got a call from a celebrity.”, Sanaa laughed.

“No. I'm serious. Guys hit on you all the time. You never give them the time of the day. You just friend zone all of them. I've seen you talking to guys who flirt with you. You never giggle at them. You were smiling and giggling the entire time on your phone now.”

“She's funny, that's all. Don't read too much into everything. This is why I told you that I won't google her. You expect her to be like how she's portrayed in those gossip rags.”

Pari was speechless. “Damn. You're actually right for once. Fine. Do whatever you want. Go on your date with her tomorrow. But you have to come back and tell me all about it. Alright?”

Sanaa sighed. “Okay okay. Whom else will I tell it to? And it's not a date.” She growled and walked away to her room in a huff.

“Whatever you say, grouch.” Pari shouted after her.




Sanaa was distracted throughout the day thinking about her date with Andy. ‘ No, not a date. I hate this Pari for putting that thought into my mind.'

By the time she reached home, she was so frazzled that it took her an inordinately long time to get ready. After going through her entire wardrobe, she finally decided on a simple combination of jeans and T-shirt. She spent another fifteen minutes on makeup only to rub it off thinking it may be too much. All thoughts about why she was primping herself up for a shopping trip with a friend were pushed vigorously to the back of her mind.

As she pulled up to the entrance of the hotel, she was glad that she chose her final outfit as she saw that Andy was dressed in a similar manner.

“Hi.” She said with a shy look on her face.

“Hi. I thought you may have got held up at work.”

“Oh no. I just lost track of time getting ready. Sorry. Shall we go?”

“How far away is the mall?”

“About ten minutes from here if we walked – which means an hour in Bangalore traffic by car.”

Andy smiled. “Alright. Walk it is. Why don't you park the car here?”

“Yes. That would be the best option. I just thought you may prefer to go by car in this heat.”

“While I may have grown up in luxury, believe it or not, I've spent most of my adulthood roughing it. So don't worry about me.”

Sanaa smiled back at Andy, kicking herself for making assumptions. She'd never expected Andrea Whittington to be this unpretentious. As she parked her car and made her way over to Andy, she couldn't help wondering how it would've been if Andy had been a man. ‘I would've fallen for her, I mean him, at first sight' She thought and sighed.

“Penny for your thoughts.”

“Ah nothing. I was thinking about where to go. So what kind of clothes do you want to get?”

“Hmmm comfortable clothes which look professional. At the same time, I don't want to evaporate in this heat.” She replied as they started walking on the pavement.

“Ok. I'm taking you to the Ariel mall and you can get what you want there. By the way, I wanted to ask you this. Don't you have any security travelling with you? Aren't you afraid of getting kidnapped or something?”

Andy laughed “Nope. No security for me. I'm not that big a celebrity. Besides, I actually don't have any money to my name. It's all in a trust fund or in the foundation. I'm pretty sure if I get kidnapped, my dad would happily tell them to have me.” She joked.

“I'm serious here, Andy”

“Seriously speaking, I'm not that well known. And this visit hasn't been publicised. Also, I'm quite well-trained in self-defence and all forms of martial arts. So don't worry, princess. I can take care of myself.”

“Look who's calling whom princess.” Sanaa scoffed.

“You just remind me of that princess in Aladdin. I don't know why.” Andy said, grinning at her.

Sanaa bumped her on the shoulder and shook her head. “Don't stereotype, Andy.” A mischievous smile emerged on Sanaa's face as she asked Andy “If you're not very famous, how do you explain all those photos of you with Hollywood actress on those celebrity magazines.” Sanaa then realised she had given herself away and covered her face with her hands.

“Ah. So you broke your promise. You did google me.” Andy's eyebrows shot up.

“Well, technically I didn't break my promise. I didn't google you. My best friend, Pari did and told me all about her findings. Don't blame her. She said it was her first time meeting a real celebrity.”

Andy laughed “I'll be sure to give her my autograph when I meet her though I should warn her that it won't be worth much. So, what were your findings?”

Andy kept a close watch on Sanaa's face and didn't miss the blush that rose up. Sanaa started stammering “Mmm… Mmmm… nothing much. Just some gossip rags. I don't believe those stories.” She didn't meet Andy's eyes and kept her gaze locked to the pavement as they walked.

“We need to cross the road here and it's a tough intersection for even an experienced campaigner like me. So you better follow me closely while we cross.” Sanaa told Andy finally looking up at her.

Andy didn't need an excuse to walk close to Sanaa and it seemed like she had express permission. So she held Sanaa's hands and said “How do you cross such a busy road in the middle without a signal. Alright. I'm putting my life in your hands. Lead on and make sure that I reach the other side in one piece.”

“Watch and learn, Andy.” Sanaa ignored the small fluttering sensation in her chest when Andy took her hand. Andy watched as Sanaa got a determined expression on her face. Sanaa put her free hand up to signal to the oncoming vehicles and without looking at the signal, proceeded forward, all the while dodging bikes and cars. Andy had to jump to get out of the way of some bikes and she was sure that heard a swear word shouted in their direction. On reaching the other side, Sanaa wiped her forehead playfully and said “Phew. And that's how it'd one. You'd better learn fast because this is how you cross in my city.”

Andy looked at her incredulously “Are you kidding me? We could've been mowed down. Are you sure there isn't an easier way to get across?”

“We could've walked 500 metres down the road for a proper crossing but that would be a waste of time. This is the simplest, Andy. Trust me. Don't worry. We were never in danger. I had you covered.”

Andy shook her head and couldn't help laughing at the spunky woman next to her. She noticed that neither of them had removed their hand from the others'. She decided that she liked having Sanaa's hand in hers and told herself that there was nothing wrong in two friends holding hands. Besides, she didn't know where to go and Sanaa was just guiding her.

Sanaa pulled her into the shopping mall before she realised that she had not released Andy's hand. She awkwardly let go, mumbling “Sorry” under her breath. Andy, who was totally cool with it, just shrugged it off to avoid making Sanaa uncomfortable.


“So, aren't you going to try them on?” asked Sanaa for the third time.

Much to Sanaa's dismay, Andy was one of those people who just picked up the clothes off the shelf and bought them without trying them on.

“No. I'm pretty sure these shirts are ok.”

Andy looked on amused as Sanaa huffed at her. “How can you know without trying them on? Nope. I insist that you at least put on one of those shirts to confirm the fit and size.”

Andy decided to humour her since it didn't seem like Sanaa was going to let her leave the store otherwise. “Fine. But just one pair of shirt and slacks. Got it.”

Sanaa waited expectantly outside the trial room of the mostly empty high-end showroom. “Do you think this is fine?” asked Andy as she stepped out of the room.

Sanaa was struck by how good Andy looked in those clothes that she didn't respond for a moment. Andy frowned thinking something was wrong with the outfit when Sanaa stepped forward. Andy clenched her fist to keep from showing any reaction as Sanaa stepped close to her and smoothened her collar.

“Yeah. I think this is perfect” whispered Sanaa, all the while looking into Andy's eyes.

“Yeah?” stuttered Andy.

Sanaa smile and replied “Yeah” and broke eye contact.

Andy forced herself to turn back to the trial room and left Sanaa standing with a bewildered look on her face.

‘What happened there? Friends give opinions on clothes right? Nothing wrong with that” thought Sanaa.


After the clothes had been paid for, they walked through the mall together silently.

“Where to now?” asked Andy. She was wondering if Sanaa felt the awkwardness too and tried to dispel it “Now that I've given you a fashion show, do you think you could feed me? I'm hungry from shopping.”

Sanaa looked at her disbelievingly “You finished your shopping in less than an hour which is not humanly possible for anyone I know. How could you be tired from that? Okay, don't pout. I'll feed you. I'm sure we can find a McDonalds or a pizza place here.”

“Oh come-on. I don't want to eat from American places. I could get that anytime. Find me some authentic food from Bangalore .”

Sanaa's eyes lit up “Okay you mean South Indian food. That I can provide. Only the best for you”

Sanaa's bubbly personality returned once more as she pulled Andy towards a restaurant. Andy just smiled on as she then proceeded to order almost everything on the menu. Sanaa told their waiter to bring everything one-by-one and gave running commentary for every dish. By the end of the meal, not only was Andy's stomach bursting with food, her head was full of information about every single one the food item that she had eaten.

“You seem very knowledgeable about all these food items. I thought you were from the northern part of India .”

“I absolutely love South Indian food. So I researched everything about it and learned to cook it too. If you have time, maybe one day I can demonstrate” she replied shyly.

“I look forward to that” said Andy.

As they were waiting for the bill, Andy turned to Sanaa with a contemplative look on her face.

“What?” asked Sanaa.

“I just…wanted to ask you something. It's about what you and your friend may have found from the internet…. About me” she started hesitantly

“Well. She found of lot of things about you. Which one are you referring to?”

“I mean the pictures of me with other women. Those models that you mentioned. Does that make you uncomfortable?”

Sanaa's reply was interrupted by their waiter when he brought the bill. Andy cursed her timing and watched on as Sanaa pulled the bill from his hand and said “My treat.”

“Let's walk back to your hotel through the park. We can talk while we walk” said Sanaa with a smile.


It was one those peaceful nights where all the sounds of the road seemed muted. Andy would've felt quite tranquil walking through the park wordlessly with Sanaa by her side but her unanswered question seemed to hang heavily in the air between them.

Sanaa cleared her throat “About your previous question.”

Andy looked up to find Sanaa staring into the distance refusing to look up.

“Yes. I did end up finding a lot more about your private life that I needed to. You're wondering if I feel uncomfortable becoming friends with a lesbian.” Sanaa looked up at Andy and motioned her to sit on a nearby bench. “I'm not homophobic. I live in a country that is intrinsically homophobic where we have laws against gay people. We're so far from achieving gay marriage that we might as well be in a different multiverse from your country. That said, most of the young Indians in metropolises don't care. We don't discriminate and we're totally cool with it as long as…”

“It's not yourself or people close to you?” Andy finished.

“Yes. I mean no. I would be fine with my best friend being gay. But I personally wouldn't want to be gay. For many reasons. Not because I'm homophobic.”

“Alright. So tell me some of those reasons.”


“The reasons. Why you're not gay? Why are you straight?”

Sanaa had a perplexed look on her face which would've made Andy laugh if not for the serious discussion that they were having. “Umm. First of all, I'm not attracted to women. I'm not attracted to men either but my mother says that's because I'm too picky. Second of all, my family and my religion would never accept it and third of all, it's too difficult being a gay person in this country. You couldn't find a person in the first place and even if you do, you can never be honest about it. So I'm straight. In fact, I'd probably be getting married within the next one year”

“You just told me the reasons why you choose to be straight. It's not a choice you make, Sanaa. You can't reason it out. I couldn't. I always knew that I was gay and falling for a girl in my senior year of school just confirmed it for me. I can't change myself and say that I'd be with a man just because all my relationships with women so far have failed.”

“You know what, Andy. I can't imagine you with a man either.” Sanaa smiled. “Anyways, to answer your first question, before we got completely off-hand, I like you just the way you are. It doesn't matter to me that you like women. I'm not going to shun you because I'm scared that you will hit on me. I may be a bit jealous of you though.”

“Jealous of me? For what?” said Andy, clutching her chest dramatically.

“Carmen Silva? There was a picture of you with her. I'm so jealous that you went out with her. She's my ultimate girl crush. I was totally fangirling her while watching her superwoman movie.”

“She's a friend. Not a girlfriend. Again I'm telling you. Don't assume that everything you read online is true. That supporting actress in the movie though….hmmm she was fun.” Sanaa looked shocked as Andy winked at her and then burst out laughing.

“I was pulling your leg. I'm really glad that I met you here, Sanaa. It's a lot of fun talking to you.”

“Well, it's fun for me too to hang out with you. You're so different from my other friends who are mostly orthodox and traditional. Pari is an exception though. That may be because she's a bit crazy. I'm kidding. She's my best friend and you should meet her sometime. You'd love her. You can't meet a more fun character than her.”

Sanaa kept chattering away about her friend and her job at the hospital as they walked back to the hotel. Andy felt a little disappointed about Sanaa's revelations but consoled herself ‘What did you think? That the first woman who interests you in India, of all places, is going to announce that she is a lesbian and throw herself at you? Memo to self. Stop staring at her and stop wishing she was your girlfriend' Andy shook herself out of her thoughts as she bid goodbye to Sanaa at her car.

“So I'll see you at the hospital tomorrow?”

“Most likely not. I've got to be in the operation theatre tomorrow. So we may not meet till the day after. Anyways, I'm sure Dr.Mandira will come up with a project schedule tomorrow. By then we should know when we'll have to get together to go the camps.”

“Yeah. We'll see what happens then. Good night and thanks for everything.”

“My pleasure” As Sanaa beamed at her, Andy found herself melting again at the sight of the beautiful smile. Andy tuned away and groaned inwardly ‘Stop the longing looks now .'

Sanaa returned home with a smile on her face thinking about her day with Andy. She was a little overwhelmed by the serious stuff that they had discussed and some of the questions that Andy had asked her. But it was quite eye opening for her to talk to such an open person. She found herself wanting to know more about Andy and told herself it was because she had such a fascinating personality. ‘And what if she asks you out?' her internal monologue piped up. ‘She won't. She knows my preferences. She's a good friend' she replied to herself. ‘What are you more afraid of? Of hating her and losing a potential new friend or of actually liking her back?'

Sanaa fell into a disturbed sleep with that question on her mind.




Sanaa was having a hectic day and was just waiting for it to get over when she received a call from Dr.Mandira at 4 o'clock. She was summoned to the director's room and she pulled her tired legs behind her.

When she got there, she realised that Dr.Mandira had a pile of papers detailing the complete schedule of project as well as each of their responsibilities. Sanaa noted that her first three days involved showing the current camps to Andy.

“Andrea should see the current state of the mobile camps we are running. We're planning to upgrade these to fully equipped eye hospitals and establish mobile units. These units in turn will go to the more remote areas which are designated for each camp site. I want you to show her the camps and also see if you can take her through the villages and introduce her to some of the community leaders. We need their cooperation for this project to be successful.”

“I'll be glad to, Dr.Mandira. I'll coordinate the transport with the hospital cab. Should we go to Koppai, Kaluragi and Bondlugere in that order?”

“Yes that order would be better. The less developed one should be seen last. Alright, you finish you work and head home. You're going to be busy from the day after tomorrow.”

“Yes, ma'am” Sanaa replied and left.


Pari greeted her at home “Hey you look tired.”

“You're stating the obvious. I want food. I need food. Please make it appear, Pari”

“Contrary to the meaning of my name, I'm no fairy. But I do have a phone and the number to a very good Chinese place. So I can promise you food in half an hour if you promise to do movie night tonight.”

“I'd do anything for food right now. So fine. I will sit through whatever horror movie that you make me watch” Sanaa sighed and went to freshen up.


As the two roomies opened the cans of food, Pari asked Sanaa about her shopping trip with Andy. Sanaa said “it was fine.” And shrugged noncommittally. Pari, who refused to be put off, tried to hound her. “Come on. Tell me something more about her.”

“I did tell her about your celebrity fixation. She promised to give you an autograph when she met you” Sanaa told her cheekily.

Pari stuck her tongue out at Sanaa and said “Mean. For this, I'm making you watch something, the likes of which you would've never seen before.”

Sanaa faltered in her eating as she watched Pari walk towards the TV to plug in her USB drive. “What are we watching?” she asked with trepidation.

“I can't think straight”


“That's the name of the movie, O ignorant one. It's supposed to be one of the greatest lesbian movies ever made. Okay maybe not the greatest. But it had good reviews and I thought I could broaden your horizons now that's you're hanging out so much with this Andrea chick.”

“You are something else, Pari. You should've been born in Canada , not India . We're too conservative for you. I'm not sure I'm going to like this movie any more than those horror ones”

“Give it a chance. I got you food. So I get the movie choice rights. And by the way, I'm just waiting for Justin Trudeau to notice me. Then I'd move to Canada .”

Sanaa shook her head and laughed “Nutcase. Fine. Put it on. Seems like I can never say no to you.”

She pumped her fist “Yes”

Sanaa, who always kept her face turned away during the horror movies, found herself glued to the screen. Pari, for a change, kept quiet during the movie as she was also engrossed in it. Sanaa felt the now familiar fluttering in her chest during the final scene of movie when the leads kissed and made love.

Pari turned to her and said “That was pretty great. They seemed like any other movie couple.”

“Yeah” replied Sanaa thoughtfully.

“And Lisa Ray was really easy on the eyes.”

“Yes. Yes she was”

“What are you thinking, Sanaa? You had a far more traditional upbringing than I did. So this may seem very new and foreign to you. Are you offended or disgusted by the happenings in the movie?”

Sanaa shook her head “No. Not at all. I may be from an orthodox family but I do have common sense. I know love is love and I loved their relationship in the movie. What disgusted me was the homophobia shown. But I understand that it's part of the world that we live in and that we can't change the thinking of our elders. I'm not sure how my family would react if my brother suddenly announced that he was gay. They would probably disown him.”

“Then my family would welcome him. As long as we youngsters are open-minded, I'm sure we'll see some change in mind-set in the country. Anyways, now that this was a success, I have another movie lined up for next movie night.”

“Another lesbian movie” Sanaa groaned.

“Yes. It's called ‘Imagine me & you' and it's got Lena Headey”

“Who is she?”

“Duh…Cersei. Game of thrones. Ring a bell”

“Ugh why would I want to see a movie just because it has an actress from that bloodthirsty series that you watch?”

“Whatever. That's the schedule for next week. Now I'm going to go to sleep with thoughts of Lisa Ray and Justin Trudeau.”

“Ha ha good night, you clown” Sanaa laughed and hugged her best friend and sent her off to her room.

Alone in her room, Sanaa's thoughts went to the movie and how eye opening it really was for her. Pari could never know that all she thought about was how her family would react if she came out and not about her brother. ‘I wish life could be wrapped up nicely like in the movies. Meet. Fall in love. Get some hate from the family. Break up. Get back together. Family loves you again. It seems so easy. My family would never come around. Besides, I'd never give them a reason to disown me' she resolved.




Two days later, she found herself at Andy's hotel again ready to pick her up for their visit to the mobile camp.

“Hey stranger” called Andy as she entered the car.

“Stranger? I met you three days back”

“Yeah and its was a really boring three days for me without any interaction with you. All work and no play”

Sanaa laughed “And it's going to be all work today also. So no shopping trips or food sampling scheduled today.”

“Fine I know this is what I signed up for when I decided to do the project. So tell me about this place we're going to.”

“Well Koppai is one of our better assembled set-ups. We have a permanent doctor on staff that stays there most days and enough ophthalmic technicians. There's an operating theatre on site too to perform cataract surgeries. All around this place is a small rural town with some farmlands. This would be our main base of operations for that area which is mainly a farming community. They are actually quite a developed group with higher literacy rates than the other places we're going to. So this is probably the easiest site that we have.”

“Alright. It should be a good visit. Just don't leave my side okay. I'm pretty sure my google translate app would not be of much use there.”

Sanaa laughed as they took off from the hospital in their official camp van.


The ride to Koppai was really scenic and Andy was quite mesmerised by the view from the van. Lush green farm lands predominated in this part of the countryside and it was green everywhere she looked. About two hours into their journey, the landscape became increasingly rocky and she thought they were going to the middle of nowhere. Just as she was about to turn and ask Sanaa how long it would take to get there, their van turned into a mud track which led to a small one-story building. Quite a few people appeared to be gathered in front of the building which had a signboard which said ‘Leela hospital outreach eye camp'.

“We're here. At last” said Sanaa.

As they got out of the van, Sanaa took the hand that Andy offered to help her out of it. She then led Andy to the entrance while waving a greeting to several people gathered at the entrance. She introduced Andy to Dr.Ram, a pleasant middle-aged doctor who was the only duty ophthalmologist at the centre. She then left to help out with seeing patients, leaving him to describe the activities of the centre.


Sanaa spent the next three hours seeing the patients who had come for check-up, many of whom she had met previously during her weekly visits to the camp. She was seeing her thirtieth patient of the day when Andy wandered into the out-patient department with a camera and a mini tablet in hand.

“Do you mind if I take pictures and sit in while you see the patients?” asked Andy.

After getting the consent of the person she was seeing, Sanaa motioned for Andy to continue. Sanaa couldn't help but be distracted by the way Andy kept moving around clicking pictures and making notes on her tablet. After sending off the patient, she turned to Andy and asked “So, did he show you around? Did you find everything you needed?”

Andy nodded “He showed me every room here and also took me out to the community. It was amazing. I even met some of the community leaders and they were so receptive about the new development that we've planned. Although one of them did tell me not to waste my time and that they had enough traditional practitioners that they don't need doctors.”

“Ha they can be like that. You can't change some of these characters.”

“Yes but overall it seemed that the people want this hospital to be improved. Do you know what is amazing? This place sees so many patients even with a limited set-up. I saw the records here and you're seeing nearly a hundred patients every day, of whom at least ten are referred to the main hospital for surgical treatment. Among them, only ten per cent actually make it to the hospital.”

Andy's face became increasingly animated as she spoke and Sanaa couldn't help but admire her passion. She leaned forward and placed her chin on her hand, looking intently at Andy as she continued to talk about everything they could achieve here. “So that means that if we convert this into a fully equipped surgical hospital, we could be helping ten times more number of people than we are currently. That would be such a drastic improvement that it blows my mind.”

Sanaa help up her hands “Whoa whoa. Hold on here, Andy. You've got to be a little more pragmatic here. Just because you provide the set-up doesn't mean that everyone is going to come for surgery here. These people are a bit resistant to change. You've got to set realistic targets.” As Andy's face fell a little, she added “But I do think, in the long-term, you could achieve big things in this locality. You've also got to look at the socio-economic improvement in the area in addition to the patient numbers.”

Andy looked at her and said “Can I have you? I mean, can I steal you for my foundation?”

Sanaa laughed “Hmmm I'm an ophthalmologist not a public health official. So you'll have to be happy just hearing about my informal opinions on everything.”

Andy smiled at Sanaa thinking whichever hospital got her was very lucky indeed “Anyways, Dr.Ram called us for lunch. Let's get to it. I presume that you're done here.”

“Yeah. My back is in pain from just sitting here. Let's go.”


Andy pretended to be working on her tab as she kept sneaking glances at Sanaa on the way back and it was easy because Sanaa was fast asleep. After an hour of letting her sleep, Andy took pity on her crooked neck and shook her awake.

“What? What happened?” said Sanaa wiping her face and looking around with a bewildered expression. She looked at Andy “Oh no. Don't tell me I fell asleep. I'm really sorry for being such terrible company.”

Andy waved her off “Don't worry. I was just making some lists for the site. I could see that you were tired.”

“Yeah. It's all Pari's fault. She kept me up last night”

“Oh doing what?”

Sanaa looked down as she realised her mistake and replied “She made me watch a movie.”

“What movie did you guys watch?”

Sanaa blushed and refused to look at Andy “Just some romance movie that she found. It was okay.”

“Which one?” Andy asked again, curious about the blush on Sanaa's face

“I can't think straight” Sanaa mumbled under her breath

Andy looked disbelievingly at her for a moment and then laughed “Are you serious? You watched ‘I can't think straight'? That's such a great film. You can't call that ‘just another romance movie'. No wonder you didn't get any sleep last night. I'm sure you overanalysed the hell out of it in your mind.”

“Of course not. It was like any other romance movie. Same over-used tropes with a little extra drama and spice” Sanaa said indignantly.

“It's just funny that you watched that movie after the conversation we had the previous day. Was it your friend's idea?”

“Yeah” she admitted “Pari wanted me to ‘broaden my horizons'” making finger-quotes in the air. “She's quite a quirky character.”

“Yeah? I'd love to meet her. Why don't you call her and we can all have dinner together at my hotel.”

Sanaa appeared to ponder this for a moment before saying “Okay” and texted Pari. “So tell me about these lists you made. Let me see if I can contribute anything.”

They spent the rest of the ride discussing about the project and what needed to be done for that location.


Pari was waiting for them in the lobby of the hotel when Sanaa and Andrea entered. After making introductions, Andy led them to the restaurant. Pari whispered to Sanaa “She seems so casual. I expected more”

“What do you mean by more? She's fine just the way she is” Sanaa replied to her disappointed friend.

“More. I mean a few more airs. That aura of a celebrity slash rich person”

“Andy is not like that. She's a friend to me now. So behave. And please don't weird her out with too many questions”

Andy tuned to see the two friends muttering something to each other and smiled at the dynamic between them. As they ate, she noticed that they both seemed to feed off each other's energy. She was amused that Pari kept questioning her about the one Oscars after-party that she had attended with her friend but made sure to reply to everything thrown at her.

“Stop bugging her about the Oscars. She's not from Hollywood . She's a philanthropist who does great things on her own” chided Sanaa

“Yes but we heard all about that during the faculty meeting. Let me have my moment with a celebrity. Don't worry about her, Andy. Sanaa's a bit of a nerd. So you tell me. Did you really meet Dwayne Johnson? Are those muscles real?”

Andy laughed at the look of exasperation on Sanaa's face. They both seemed to have nothing in common and teased each other mercilessly but you could see that they were the kind of friends who stood fiercely by each other's side. After a highly entertaining dinner, Andy proceeded to learn a bit more about Pari herself and found she was an ophthalmologist too with an interest in squint correction. They had a long and fruitful discussion on incorporating that into their project and after promising to look into it, Andy turned to Sanaa and said “You know what. I envy you”

“For what?” asked a surprised Sanaa

“I don't have a friendship like yours. Most of the people in my circles tend to be very superficial and I just don't gel with them. You both are like a breath of fresh air for me”

Sanaa turned to Pari and said “I love this joker whatever she does. And you can always hang out with us if you need a friend, Andy”

Andy and Sanaa then smiled at each other like they were the only two people in the room and it took Pari clearing her throat loudly to break the connection between them.

“So, we have to leave as we have an early day tomorrow. Will you be coming by the hospital tomorrow?” asked Pari

“No. My agenda over the next two days is full of endless meetings with administrators to get clearance for the project. This followed by a video conference with our team from the foundation which takes care of funding. So busy but boring days ahead. I may not meet you till our next camp visit, Sanaa” she said turning to her.

“We can try to meet sometime. I'll text you. Good night” Sanaa and Pari bid goodbye to Andy


As Sanaa drove Pari back home, Pari looked at her in consternation “Hmmm…. So what was that?”

“What was what?” asked Sanaa

“There were some serious fireworks between the two of you there” Pari replied.

Sanaa scoffed “What are you talking about? Between whom?”

“Between you and Andy. There's a real chemistry there and if I'm not mistaken, she is attracted to you. She couldn't take her eyes off you.”

“You're wrong. She's just being friendly and I'm the only person she seems to know in this land which is foreign for her.”

“You're kidding yourself. I know you feel it and in some ways, you like her too”

Sanaa turned to her shocked, ready to deny when Pari added “You've never been attracted to any guys. You always say it's because you're waiting for your parents to choose someone they approve of. Maybe you were just denying yourself.”

“Now you're going too far, Pari. You have no right to make these silly assumptions. And I…”

Her heated reply was cut off by her ringing phone. Pari took it out of her bag and held it up for Sanaa to see “It's your mother.”

“Take the phone and tell her that I'm driving. I'll call her back when we reach home”

Pari did just that and turned to Sanaa with full intention on continuing their discussion when Sanaa held up her hand “Stop, Pari. That discussion is over. Just because I don't have a boyfriend doesn't mean I'm in love with the first lesbian I've ever met. I don't want to hear anymore” she said heatedly.

Pari just nodded and kept quiet for the rest of their ride home. They bid each other good night and went to their respective rooms.

Sanaa was still annoyed and her mood wasn't helped any by her conversation with her mother.

“Hi, Ma. You called?”

“Of course I did. Did you see the message I sent you?”

“No. What message?”

“I've sent you Rohan's picture along with his contact number. Me and Dad met with his parents today and they were a lovely couple. We really liked them.”

Sanaa groaned internally “Ma, I'm not marrying his family.”

“Yes, you are. You are marrying into that family. Not only the boy, the family must be suitable too. He's a software engineer working in Bangalore currently and I must say he's rather smart and handsome. He did an MS in computer engineering in the US and came back here because he missed his family”

‘Must be a Mama's little boy' Sanaa mumbled under her breath

“What did you say? Anyways, never mind. His parents have business interests in Delhi and Bangalore and they divide their time between the two cities.”

“Joy” Sanaa replied drolly

Her mother completely missed the sarcasm in her voice and said “Yes. That would be so great for both our families. He's dying to meet you, Sanaa. It seems he really liked your profile and picture.”

Sanaa sighed “What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to contact him and then meet with him. Preferably within the next few days”

“Ma, you don't know how busy I am. I've just recently been selected for a project. I don't have any time for this.”

“Sanaa dear. You know very well that I'm not like other moms. I'm quite reasonable. Most mothers by now would've forcibly married off their girls. I'm at least giving you options. You said you wouldn't agree till you meet him and go out with him a few times. You said you needed to feel some chemistry with him, whatever that means. I said ok for everything and I'm fine with leaving the final choice to you. All I expect from you is for you to respect my wishes. Is that too much to ask?”

Sanaa wanted to bang her forehead against the wall. She had no defence against her mother's emotional blackmail.

“I just need you to meet him soon. If you don't like him, then tell me so. Please keep an open mind, Sanaa. We really like this family.” Sanaa wondered how many times people had told her to be open minded in the last few days, though in different contexts.

“Fine. I'll talk to him and arrange something” she sighed.

“Thank you. That's all I ask for. And don't go out just to find faults with him like the last guy.”

“Ma, even you weren't too keen on him.”

“Yes that's true but we're quite interested with Rohan. So please, will you play nice?”

“Alright alright. I'll be good, Ma. I'll be so good I'll make him fall in love with me” she said in a flat voice.

“Now that would be a delight to me. Now I hope you're taking care of yourself and not working too hard?”

“I'm fine. Don't worry. Ma, I have to go. I've got an early start tomorrow.”

“Ok but remember…”

“Yes yes I remember. I'll call you later, Ma. Bye”

She closed the call and went to the message app. Not only did her mother send her the boy's number, it seemed like she'd given her number to him as well. She had a message from him with a brief ‘Hi. This is Rohan. Your mother gave me your number and said it was ok to contact you'

She looked at his picture and thought ‘Not bad. Better than most of the guys that my mother has shown me so far'

After agonising over it, she replied to him ‘Hi. She just told me'

They had a fifteen minute conversation which ranged from a meaningless ‘How are you?' to ‘What do you do?' He didn't understand what her job meant and she couldn't understand all the java stuff he was talking about. They'd just started on asking about hobbies when she got a text from Andy

Andy: Hey, are you asleep?

Sanaa: No. What's up?

Andy: Just wanted to say thank you for everything you've done for me since I came here. You're like a genie who arranges everything in a jiffy.

Sanaa: First I'm Jasmine. Now, I'm the genie. Make up your mind J

Andy: I think I need more data to process that and make a conclusion

Sanaa: Oh does that mean you need to see more of my powers?

Andy: No It means that I'll have to hang around with you some more to decide J

Sanaa: That can be arranged

Andy: Good night

Sanaa smiled automatically at her phone and wished she could be chatting with Andy face to face. She thought about how much fun she had with her and was thinking about when she would meet her next when she was interrupted from her thoughts by another ping.

This time from Rohan . She groaned when she saw his message. It seemed like there wasn't anything for them to talk about. He was an action movie buff and watched only cricket and no other sport. She was a tennis buff with no time for movies other than the ones that Pari forced her to watch.

Finally, after the disastrous beat-around-the-bush conversation they had, he asked her out. She asked him ‘Where' and he told her to meet him at a mall at the outskirts of the city. He said it had the best gaming zones. Sanaa wanted to object but she thought ‘What the heck. Let him be in his comfort zone for the first date.' She agreed to meet him two days later.

As Sanaa went to sleep, she tried to force herself to imagine marriage with Rohan. Instead, her thoughts were interrupted by Andy's smiling face and she fell asleep with Andy on her mind.


…..To be continued…..


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