Some of the greatest love stories go unseen, unheard and undocumented, simply because they’re ordinary couples living their lives. The Better India is showcasing such stories— everyday people and their extraordinary love!
The story of Pankaj Tripathi’s road to recognition is like that of an uncut diamond, whose real value is appreciated only after plenty of grinding.
One of the finest actors in the Hindi film industry, Tripathi aces every role with such intensity and finesse that we wish he had tasted success much earlier.
Over the years, through all the ups and downs and the seemingly endless wait for his career to take off, if there was one constant in Tripathi’s life, it was his wife, Mridula.
“If you ask me about my struggle, I don’t have any sad details like sleeping on a footpath or starving for days. That’s because my wife, Mridula, had taken over the entire responsibility of the house. In fact, I tell everyone that she is the man of the house,” the actor had told The Better India in a conversation last year.
Intrigued with this declaration, we reached out to Mridula to know more. What unfolded was a beautiful love story.
May 24, 1993. Mridula clearly remembers the day when she laid eyes on Tripathi for the very first time, and it was indeed ‘love at first sight.’
“It was my elder brother’s Tilak (engagement ceremony). I was on my way to a tiny room on the terrace to get dressed when this boy with hazel eyes, brown hair and a beard crossed me. Those eyes would go on to follow me during the entire function,” recalls Mridula.
Mridula would later find out that the boy was the bride’s younger brother. She was in class 9 at the time, while Pankaj was two years her senior. While he also felt an instant connection with her, little did they know that the road to their ‘happily ever after’ was a long one ahead.
While couples today have all the privacy and ease of communication they could possibly want thanks to smartphones and instant messengers, these options were non-existent back then.
It was tough for Pankaj and Mridula to interact with each other, and writing letters was out of the question.
Fortunately, Pankaj would come visiting his sister once every five months, and that would give them the freedom to spend some quality time together.
“I would leave for school in the morning and could meet him only after dinner. That was our time. We would sit and talk, sometimes till early morning. We both loved reading and had so much to talk about the books, novels, characters, stories, and the writers,” says Mridula, with a smile.
Their relationship rarely went beyond conversations, and they had discussed practically every topic under the sun.
However, in all this time, they had managed to carefully avoid the one subject that mattered the most—the love between them.
This went on till the day Mridula’s parents found a marriage alliance for her. By then, eight years had passed since their first meeting.
“Pankaj accompanied my brother and sister-in-law to the prospective groom’s place. He came and told me that it was a good match for me and I would surely get much of ‘bhautik sukh.’ I did not know so much Hindi back then and asked what that meant, and he said ‘material happiness.’ That’s when I felt that I was losing something very precious,” she says.
While Pankaj went away with a heavy heart to study at the prestigious National School of Drama (NSD), Mridula hatched a grand scheme to break up the marriage.
“Only I know the lengths that I’d gone to break that marriage. And now the most important dilemma was communicating this news to Pankaj,” she says.
Landline phones were all that they had, and Mridula desperately hoped that Pankaj would call her someday.
And he finally did on December 24—just a day before her birthday.
Pankaj spoke to all the members of the family, and finally, Mridula got the chance to speak to him after months of waiting.
“He wished me, and I reminded him that it was the next day. I tried really hard to convey my feelings to him, but he didn’t understand. It took a long explanation for him to finally get the drift,” says Mridula, continuing to laugh while reminiscing those early days of love.
Following this, Pankaj gave Mridula the number of the telephone booth at NSD and asked her to call every night between 8 and 9 pm.
“Everyone knew it was me on the call and so instead of a ‘Hello,’ I would hear ‘Tripathi tera call hai!’” she adds.
Two years flew by. Mridula had completed her B.Ed. course and her parents wanted to get her married.
However, Pankaj still had a year to finish at NSD. So, the wedding was put on hold.
Interestingly, Mridula received an interview letter around this time.
“It was typed in a very formal way on plain paper. The letter did not have any official seal or the name of the school but came along with a train ticket to Delhi. It didn’t take me long to understand that it was Pankaj,” says Mridula.
She informed her parents that she was taking up the job, and left for Delhi where for the next few months, she stayed at the same boys’ hostel where Pankaj was living.
“Those boys still bully me by saying that I was the ‘Bhabhi’ of Satte pe Satta who came in all of a sudden and made them wear clothes,” she adds.
Mridula got a job by the time Pankaj finished his course and couple finally got married on January 15, 2004.
A short while later, they moved to Mumbai.
Their daughter, Aashi, was born in 2006 and with her stable teaching career, Mridula took it upon herself to take care of all the expenses so that Pankaj could pursue his dreams, unhindered.
Their life together saw many tough days, but they have no regrets.
“Yes, it was a tough time, but neither of us ever felt that we were doing anything unusual or anything extra for the other one. It’s just like if one of your hand is hurt, you use the other hand and vice-versa,” she adds.
It was finally in 2009 when Pankaj finally got a break thanks to the television series ‘Powder,’ and there has been no looking back ever since.
“We had purchased a small car, and the three of us were out and about when I saw a poster in front of the Inorbit mall with Pankaj on it. That was the most memorable moment of my life, and I was so overwhelmed that I began to cry,” remembers Mridula.
On being asked if the fame has changed anything, she says, “Yes, I do miss those trips to Big Bazaar where we would go happily and fight over buying anything and come back fighting. Somehow people don’t let us enjoy that personal space now. But it’s okay. Whatever Pankaj is today, is because of his fans, and I want to request each one of them to keep showering him with their love and blessings. The gratitude that we feel cannot be expressed in words.”
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Pankaj and Mridula Tripathi’s story of love at first sight, is a beautiful testimony to the sort of love that blossoms slowly, but withstands the test of time and space and emerges stronger than ever.
We wish them the very best.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra. With inputs by Manabi Katoch)