How we met: ‘I couldn’t just go with the flow – so I told him I had romantic feelings’

<span>‘I’ve never met a person in my life who can love as purely’ … Varad and Rasika. </span><span>Photograph: Supplied image undefined</span>
‘I’ve never met a person in my life who can love as purely’ … Varad and Rasika. Photograph: Supplied image undefined

After 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 travelled to the remote forest reserve of Gadchiroli to work for a local NGO while he submitted applications for the next steps of his education. “I was doing community Covid management, supporting the vaccination programme,” he says.

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

He ran over to introduce himself. “I was excited that some women had come to watch us play,” he laughs. Straight away he noticed that Rasika seemed caring and was “absolutely gorgeous”. “She had short hair because she’d just donated her hair to a cancer charity. She was also into sports and anime, which really attracted me.”

Rasika liked the fact he introduced himself and found him “outgoing”. “I really enjoyed spending time with him from the very first day, and I was constantly waiting for him to approach me,” she says. As they got to know each other, it soon became clear there was something more than friendship between them. “I was not patient enough to go with the flow, so I went up to him one day and just told him I had romantic feelings for him,” she says. Varad felt the same way. “The only reason I didn’t make the first move is because I was planning to leave to study abroad. I didn’t know if I could get into anything too serious.” However, he soon realised he couldn’t say no, and they agreed to take things “one step at a time”.


Living in a region of India where relationships outside marriage were deemed inappropriate, it wasn’t easy to date. “We started to meet at night when everyone was sleeping,” says Rasika. “It was scary because we never knew what animals we’d find on the road. We were constantly hearing news of tigers and snakes coming into the community, but our feelings were so strong we were willing to take the risk.”

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

That summer, while Varad was preparing to travel to the UK, Rasika developed a persistent cough. It continued to get worse and in September she was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer, caused by a genetic mutation. “Because it was advanced, I wasn’t sure about having treatment,” she says. “I spoke to Varad and he said he would support me with whatever I wanted. His support made me realise I could handle the treatment.”

Before departing for the UK, Varad visited Rasika and said he wanted them to be together. “He told me, ‘I am here with you for ever and we will go through this together.’ That was the biggest motivation for me to do every possible thing I could to survive,” she says. The three-month curative treatment, which included chemotherapy and surgery, was successful, and she began to make a swift recovery. Varad admits he was terrified he might lose her. “Her oncologist was brilliant and I’m just very grateful she responded to treatment.”

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

“I’ve never met a person in my life who can love as purely as Rasika,” says Varad. “It’s a limitless love that I’ve never felt in 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 to be unwell, it was so hard for him too, being in the UK without any support. He never let it show – he just kept on being there for me,” she says. “We are now living in the present and enjoying whatever we have right now, because you never know what’s next.”