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He is her 'Mr Fantastic'. She is his 'Mrs Lovable'.
Neha and Mohnish Kharkar are school sweethearts whose friendship blossomed into a beautiful marriage. Albeit, as it typically goes, not without a few hiccups.
They grew up in the same locality, Vittawa, near Thane, adjoining Mumbai, which is dominated by the closeknit Koli community.
It was Mohnish who first fell in love with Neha in Class 8; they studied in the same school. She liked Mohnish's sensitive and gentle nature but was oblivious about how he felt.
"Her nature was so lovable. We were very good friends and I thought she felt the same way about me," says Mohnish. "I knew I was going to marry her."
Giggly classmates soon made Neha aware of Mohnish's feelings.
When they were in Class 12, he finally mustered courage to propose. Though she said yes, Neha confesses she was slightly sceptical.
Neha and her younger sister have been raised by a single mother. The family moved to Malad in north west Mumbai after Neha's schooling.
"I come from a conservative family; my mother is very strict. In our community, girls get marriage proposals from within the community by the age of 21. Marrying Mohnish would mean transgressing cultural lines because love marriages are frowned upon. I was very worried about how it would impact my sister; I did not want my decision to affect her in any way," says Neha.
Distance was another major problem; they couldn't meet each as frequently as they once did. The mobile phone became their lifeline.
"We used to download a certain chatting app to talk to each other and delete it every day so that there was not trace left of our conversations. My mom began to suspect that something was going on, but she never asked me directly," says Neha.
On the other side, Mohnish's "cool" parents laid down two conditions for their son. The first, that his bride should be from their community. Second, he had to be financially capable to look after her.
They wholeheartedly accepted Neha, but she didn't have the courage to talk to her mother.
As marriage proposals started coming in for her, the lovebirds began to worry. Mohnish convinced Neha to tell her mother she needed more time to make up her mind about marriage. Surprisingly, her mother agreed.
The Grand Plan
Mohnish's parents and his sister were on their side; they realised they needed a plan to convince Neha's family, especially her mother.
So Neha casually told her maasi (mother's sister) that someone by the name Mohnish Kharkar, who was from their community, had sent a marriage proposal. Her maasi reached out to Neha's mom and they found out more about the boy. A meeting was set up between the two families on December 26, 2021; they met at Neha's Malad home.
"His family pretended they were meeting me for the first time," laughs Neha. "They asked me questions about my hobbies, my likes, etc. Just like they do in the movies, we were asked if we wanted to speak with each other in private. It was quite funny."
Luckily for the couple, the meeting went well and the two families decided to finalise an engagement date.
As the guests go were about to leave, Neha's mother smiled at her, "He is the same boy you are dating, right?"
On April 22, 2022, with the blessings and support of their loved ones, Neha and Mohnish got married before 500 guests.
"It was such a beautiful day. All our loved ones were by our side to celebrate our love. Each time I looked at Mohnish, all I could do was grin and think, 'Yay, we made it!'," says Neha.
Mohnish agrees, "It was magical. Just the thought that, from this day onwards, I'll have the love of my life by my side and we could live under one roof was so special."
Life partners Become Business Partners
Mohnish had always dreamt of starting his own business.
Neha was sceptical, preferring the security that came with the paycheck that they both earned at the end of each month.
But he convinced her to take the plunge. "Mohnish strongly believed that if we did something together, we would succeed," says Neha. That's how, post COVID, their The Juice Cafe, a small juice cart, came alive.
The brand serves a variety of fresh juices, milkshakes and cold coffee. Neha and Mohnish ensure they provide their customers with amazing service -- right from the fruits they use, the packaging, the hygiene and just overall look and feel of their brand.
"We do our respective jobs during the day and open the juice cart in the evening. I don't decide anything until I consult her; she has the best suggestions," Mohnish says.
"It's only because of him that I could let go of fear that business is not for everyone. From a handful people, we now have a regular set of customers. It has shown me that if your idea is good and you work hard and have such a supportive partner, things can only go from good to better. I am no longer afraid of taking risks," says Neha.
Keeping Their Love Alive
Their responsibilities, their respective jobs and their business keeps them very busy but the two make sure they take out time for each other.
"He is really good in expressing love with the smallest gestures," she says. "For instance, if am tired he will serve me food. And he makes sure he decorates the plate nicely. He'll shape the serving of rice like a heart; the fish fry will have a bright salad on top it. Such thoughtful gestures are more than enough for me. These little things keep our romance alive."
The couple also enjoy travelling and trying out interesting dishes. Whenever they get time, they explore new places and new cuisines. Each time they do this, they find themselves rejuvenated.
Neha and Mohnish will celebrate their second anniversary in a couple of months.
"Though we are husband and wife now, he is still my best friend like he was in school and college. This, and the fact that he still looks at me the way he used to then, gives me butterflies! Because that's what love is, isn’t it? I really consider myself very lucky."
As told to Mayur Sanap.
It's the season of love. The nip in the air reminds us that Valentine's Day is around the corner.
Are you excited like we are? Do you have a special someone in your life? How did you two meet? Was it love at first sight?
Who played Cupid? Who said the magical words first?
Were you nervous, anxious? Felt butterflies in your stomach?
How long have you two been together? What's your secret to your happiness?
Tell us all about it.
Write in to us at email@example.com (Subject: 'Jab We Met'). You can include a photograph of you and your partner and we'll publish the best entries Rediff.com.