Sparks fly immediately when Rukmani—fierce and assertive in the best and worst possible ways—meets the gentle Ayaan in the magical city Paris. Meanwhile, back in India, her reticent sister, Mrinalini struggles to cope with the void of a loveless marriage and an early pregnancy.
Tides Don’t Cross follows these extremely interesting characters as their lives cross in surprising ways. Mrinalini, Ayaan and Rukmani wade through choppy tides, unaware of their common destiny. Deeply touching, this is an unforgettable story of thwarted desires, of love and its loss, of losing and finding oneself, and of falling and learning to rise.
Young and talented author Simar Malhotra has created yet another piercing and riveting read.
Simar Malhotra is the author of the teen novel There is a Tide. She is studying at Stanford University and is the winner of the Bocock/Guerard Fiction Prize. Her work has been published in the Gold Man Review literary journal and Stanford’s in-house magazine Topiary. When she’s not curled up with a book, she can be found doing Muay Thai or cuddling with all things furry. Below you can read an excerpt from Tides Don’t Cross. Courtesy: Rupa.
An Excerpt from Tides don’t Cross by Simar Malhotra
Ayaan dug into his burger again. The food reminded him of the drive-throughs in Jaipur, of how he and his friends would go to Elements Mall and get a burger each during exam time. All of his friends, except Wasim, were either Marwari or Jain boys. They were so piously vegetarian that if one of them happened to be treating the group, he would refuse to pay for Ayaan’s chicken burger. He wondered what caste the Sirityas came from. He was fairly certain Rukmani was a Hindu. From the little Hindu mythology knowledge he had, he knew Rukmani was the name of Lord Krishna’s wife.
‘Are you even listening to me?’ Rukmani nudged him.
Ayaan nodded and smiled. Rukmani’s inebriation ripped off the layer of sophistication she had carefully cultivated.
‘Let’s jump into the Seine.’ Rukmani announced.
‘Huh?’ Ayaan said, with a raised eyebrow.
‘The Seine,’ she gestured towards the river. ‘Let’s jump.’
‘Shut up,’ Ayaan said, not taking her seriously.
‘I want to, but I don’t want to risk dying alone, you know. That’s one of my biggest fears in life. So if you jump with me then at least we can die together,’ she paused. ‘Together in life and death, how cute!’
‘You’re drunk Rhea,’ Ayaan chuckled, though he, too, found the idea of being together in life and death cute. ‘I doubt I would die as a result of drowning. Ever.’
Rukmani put down her burger and turned to Ayaan. ‘Just because you were a swimmer you think I can’t jump in?’
Rukmani nodded, accepting a challenge. In a jiffy, she took to her feet and without giving Ayaan a moment even to look, jumped right into the waters of the Seine with a loud splash.
‘What in the world!’ cried Ayaan.
Instinctively, he dropped his burger, kicked off his shoes and slipped out of his t-shirt in a single swift motion. He stared ahead at the water, mentally approximating the angle at which he must dive in order to be propelled towards Rukmani’s small bobbing body. He dove, his lean body hitting the water perpendicularly without much of a splatter. The cold water pierced through his skin and into his bones. The current sent Ayaan towards the right, and he swam effortlessly towards Rukmani, who was struggling to keep afloat. She was flapping and wading frantically, making it even harder for Ayaan to reach her. He got a hold of her leg, but the moment he touched it, she jerked hard and began kicking and screaming, her shouts only forming bubbles in the black water, unheard by the world under the white noise of her own splashing.
‘Stop, stop!’ Ayaan shouted, tightening his grip around Rukmani’s shoulders. He slung his injured arm around her small waist and, with his other arm, hailed himself and Rukmani forward across the river to the Port du Louvre. He gripped onto a jagged wall at the edge of the river and hoisted Rukmani, before climbing out himself. The cold wind raised all the hairs on his body and a stinging pain went through his right shoulder; he clutched it tight and pressed down on it hard with his left hand, slowly trying to rotate it. Ayaan hadn’t set foot in a pool in over five months and this sudden jump and sprint had left his body in a state of shock.
‘Woah. That was the craziest, most fun thing I’ve ever done in my life!’ Rukmani said with a fat grin. She sat on the wall leaning back with her weight on her arms. ‘And you are so fucking hot. Why do you hide?’ She gaped at Ayaan’s chest and stomach as he stood tall in front of her. A silver pendant dangled from his neck. She didn’t notice how he was flinching his shoulder.
‘Rhea, are you mad?’ Ayaan said. ‘Are you out of your fucking mind?’
‘What do you think you were doing? Do you have any idea about what could have happened? What would have happened?’
‘Why’re you getting so mad?’ Rukmani said, clearly taken aback by Ayaan’s reaction.
‘Mad? Why am I getting mad? Are you dumb? Do you see anyone, anyone at all, in this goddamn river? Do you see people boating? Swimming? Anything at all? That’s probably for a reason! And you’re sitting here laughing like a fool. You could have died in there. I don’t even know if you realize how serious that is!’ Ayaan’s chest heaved as he panted.
‘I’m sorry, Ayaan. I-I just wanted to have some fun. That’s all,’ Rukmani scratched her head nervously as she sat up straight.
‘There are many ways of having fun, Rhea. Trying to drown yourself in a river is not one of them. Get up now.’ He gave her his hand to take support. ‘We need to move. And don’t fall. The stairs are slippery.’
The cold wind continued blowing inopportunely. Rukmani rubbed her hands together while cold water trickled down her stomach and legs. She felt guilty. She hadn’t known Ayaan too long but she liked to think that she made good initial judgements—it was different that she often chose not to heed them—and she had never thought he would get so mad. But even though she didn’t want to admit it, she knew it was her fault, and that jumping into the Seine was probably not the soundest of ideas. As they walked across the Pont des Arts to the other side, she tried to rehearse what to say to Ayaan so that she could absolve herself of her guilt. Sorry that you had to jump in too but it was still really fun? Maybe I was foolish, I apologize?
‘Sorry, Rhea, I think I said more than I needed to,’ Ayaan said interrupting her silent rehearsals.
‘Oh, no no. I’m sorry. That was dumb, what I did, I mean,’ Rukmani hesitated. ‘Can we be friends again?’
Ayaan smiled and wrapped a wet arm around Rukmani. Her stomach somersaulted and a tickling warmth dispersed into every muscle of her otherwise frozen body. She felt awkward at first and then snuggled into his body.
Luckily, Ayaan found his t-shirt and shoes right where he’d left them. Rukmani, still a little bit wobbly, tried to wring out the water from her blouse, which was now translucent under the dim glow of the yellow streetlight.
‘Here, wear this,’ Ayaan said handing her his dry t-shirt.
Rukmani looked surprised.
‘You’re drenched; you’ll be sick tomorrow otherwise.’
‘No, I’m fine. You’ll be cold,’ Rukmani said.
‘Just wear it, Rhea,’ Ayaan insisted.
‘And you’re hot so you want to show off,’ she grinned.
Rukmani unbuttoned her shirt slowly, the same tickling warmth spread through her, almost blacking her out. Ayaan squatted down to wear his shoes. He kept his head bent, not looking up at Rukmani even once. After taking three times the time he would normally take to tie his laces, he got up. Rukmani stood in front of him, her blouse and his t-shirt both in her hand, her black push-up bra in sharp contrast with her fair skin.
Ayaan looked away. ‘What’re you doing?’
‘Why’re you embarrassed? Can’t look?’ Rukmani bit hard on her lower lip to keep it from trembling.
‘Rhea, wear your clothes, it’s cold,’ he said with his back towards her.
‘Do you like me, Ayaan?’ Rukmani asked.
Ayaan turned and looked into Rukmani’s eyes. The yellow light of the distance reflected in her eyes like a flame dancing in the water. They stood in the middle of the road—the Louvre on one side and the Byzantine library on the other. Ayaan gently held her shoulder and ran his thumb down Rukmani’s lips. He patted her wet hair. ‘I do.’
He softly brushed away her hair from her forehead and kissed her. Rukmani’s lips quivered as she sniffled. She wrapped her arms tightly around Ayaan and spoke into his chest, ‘You’re so nice, I hate you!’
Ayaan hugged her back and kissed her softly on the lips. ‘You’re such a fool. It’s cold, wear the shirt now.’
He helped her wear his black t-shirt—his fingers gently worked on the buttons, until he got to the lowest one, which peeped into her bosom.