How we met: ‘I couldn’t let myself go, so I told him I had romantic feelings’ | life and Style

TOAfter studying medicine in New Delhi, Varad, who grew up in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, knew he wanted to make a difference in the world. In 2021, he traveled to the remote Gadchiroli forest reserve to work for a local NGO while submitting applications for the next steps of his education. “I was doing community management of Covid, supporting the vaccination program,” he says.

A month after arriving he met Rasika, a physiotherapist from Nagpur, Maharashtra, who had also come to work for the NGO. “She had been studying in Mumbai but wanted to better understand rehabilitation in rural India,” she says. “While they were showing me around, we went to see the badminton court, which was a mud field with a net, and that’s where I saw Varad for the first time.”

He ran to introduce himself. “I was excited that some women had come to see us play,” she laughs. He immediately noticed that Rasika seemed affectionate and was “absolutely beautiful.” She “had short hair because she had just donated it to a cancer charity. She also liked sports and anime, which really attracted me.”

Rasika liked the fact that he showed up and found him “outgoing.” “I really enjoyed spending time with him from day one and was constantly waiting for him to come to me,” she says. As they got to know each other, it soon became clear that there was more than just friendship between them. “I wasn’t patient enough to let myself go, so one day I approached him and told him I had romantic feelings for him,” she says. Varad felt the same. “The only reason I didn’t take the first step is because he was planning to go study abroad. I didn’t know if he could get me into something too serious.” However, he soon realized that he couldn’t say no and they agreed to take things “step by step.”

Living in a region of India where relationships outside of marriage were considered inappropriate, dating was not easy. “We started meeting at night, when everyone was asleep,” says Rasika. “It’s scary because we never knew what animals we would find along the way. We were constantly hearing news about tigers and snakes coming to the community, but our feelings were so strong that we were willing to take the risk.”

In November 2021 they received news that Varad had won a scholarship to study health innovations at the University of Oxford. Rasika, who never planned to study abroad, had started looking for work in Tamil Nadu, southern India. “It was very hard and sad, but we started talking about going our separate ways,” Varad says. With different futures planned, they left the NGO in February 2022, but maintained contact as friends.

Varad and Rasika in Oxford. Photography: Image supplied undefined

That summer, as Varad prepared to travel to the United Kingdom, Rasika developed a persistent cough. She continued to get worse and in September she was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer, caused by a genetic mutation. “As she was advanced, she wasn’t sure about getting treatment,” she says. “I spoke with Varad and he told me that he would support me in whatever I wanted. His support made me realize that I could endure the treatment.”

Before leaving for the United Kingdom, Varad visited Rasika and told her that he wanted them to be together. “He told me, ‘I’m here with you forever and we’ll get through this together.’ That was the biggest motivation for me to do everything I could to survive,” he says. The three-month curative treatment, which included chemotherapy and surgery, was successful and she began to recover quickly. Varad admits that he was terrified of losing her. “Her oncologist was brilliant and I am very grateful that she responded to treatment.”

They decided that it didn’t matter where they lived “as long as they were together” and both began applying to colleges for graduate studies. Rasika won a place at Oxford to study tropical medicine, while Varad was also able to continue her education there, doing a PhD in cervical screening models. “I never thought I would make it to Oxford, but Varad motivated me and believed in me,” he says. She joined him in England in October 2023 and they now both live in Oxford. Her health is still being closely monitored and she has ongoing treatment for the genetic mutation that caused the cancer.

“I have never met a person in my life who can love as purely as Rasika,” says Varad. “It is a limitless love that I have never felt the same way before. When you find someone like that, the only thing you can do is love them back.”

Rasika appreciates that he always puts her needs first. “As much as it was difficult for me not to be well, it was also difficult for him to be in the UK without any support. He never let it show, he just continued to be there for me,” she says. “Now we live in the present and enjoy everything we have now, because you never know what will come next.”

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