We entertain fantasy in our lives to end a dull, wretched, unfulfilling life …but, nothing can beat the out-of-control surges that come with falling in love. Or, should I say infatuation? I was sixteen…quite young for my days, when the little winged arrow shooter hit me with his stupid arrows. I thought cupids never made mistakes; after all they were like Gods in Greek and Roman Mythology. But, this time his wonderful archery took me to the target and split several arrows with the same deliberation and made me blind
I’d always been dismissive by nature, even suspicious of strangers. But, this time I couldn't handle myself. Gaurav stayed with us for a few days and turned my innocent heart boutiquey and blind..
Ah! This humbug valentine in her teenage was so deliciously stupid.
Mangoes had arrived on the dining table. Baba dug into his and mumbled something through a mouthful of pulp. Ma said something, and left the room; a little bell pealed softly as Ma passed through the door. Breakfasts with Baba on Sundays were always eventful…but, today the cumbersome silence was difficult to combat.
Ma always said, 'you've got to learn to separate make-believe from real life.' But, love has eternally been the enemy of justice! Taming it, wasn’t easy for me too --Ma returned with a tray of tea cups, narrowing her eyes on my untouched plate, she yelled,’what’s the matter, Munia?’
I looked up mistily at her. My parents exchanged an astonished glare. Baba shrugged.
Ma sat down chewing her lips, softly asked me, ‘Are you unwell…?’ I kept fiddling with my fingers for some time and pouted:’ I want strawberry shake’.
Baba looked at me, and almost pleadingly asked… ‘Hey Munia, what happened? …dreaming strawberries?'
He started humming,
“Let me take you down,
'cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields.
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about.Strawberry Fields forever….” ------------Baba was singing suppressing a smirk. ‘Well, no dreamers can succeed without help, Munia. Pa-int what you-u-are-e drea-ming, sweetheart ..Ta..ra...Ta-ra-ra..! He started whistling to the tune of Beatles.
I remained silent. The sun was bobbing in and out through the dusty clouds. Ma, with a heady excitement hissed, ‘Yes, last night you were crying in your sleep. Ahh, najor legeche’… Without hearing the details, she started making spitting sounds of condemnation…. ‘thu..thu.thu.’, and Baba dribbled his laughter till it ran….
But suddenly he stopped chewing; raising his eyebrows, he poked me disspiritedly this time, ‘What’s the matter? Are you happy or nervous or excited or upset..? Or, are you just being a drama queen?’
I shook my head taking a deep breath and stuffed a portion into my mouth, and started chewing…Baba looked at me solemnly for a moment and then his face crumpled into laughter: ‘You’re really in love, aren’t you? But, who’s the lucky boy?'. He put his hand on my head and ruffled my hair; rose, quickened his pace and left the room. I slumped back again, raising my face to the ceiling…. His simplest question was leading to a hundred possible answers…!
Love was in the air…
Gaurav was doing his internship in surgery and had a practical do-it-yourself side to his nature which meshed neatly with the ambience of our house. Often, I found him helping ma in the kitchen. Initially, I was irritated about infringing rights…but, gradually I came across those silvery star-like eyes, which glimmered with so much life while staring at me. Oh, he sucked the marrow out of my life…
Gaurav was very good at hiding his feelings, unlike a ranting bunny like me…. I spent sleepless nights in my room, ranting and raving at myself harboring romantic thoughts. I was almost certain, that he was also nurturing the blossoms of our love silently in his room.....
Next morning I woke up to find that ma was not home. Baba had left for work. Gaurav was having his morning tea in the veranda outside. He was deeply engrossed in reading. I coughed and shuffled my feet to announce my arrival. He folded his book neatly and drew out a packet of cigarette and after a moment’s hesitation offered it to me.’ Would you care to smoke one? Mirandians smoke…right? ’
‘No,' I said and looked away. I was leaning against the wall. I straightened and, without any inhibition asked him blatantly,’ have you ever been to the Coffee House in Mohan Singh Place? You get imported jeans there…’ My voice sounded silly to my own ears; nevertheless, I stood in front of him like a glittering peacock...
Gaurav was attracting me like a magnet-- with his charm, his nonchalance, his grace, he was at it so majestically.Oh, my Romeo was no less than Amitabh Bacchan!!
So, the next move was to get him to the Coffee House --- because that WAS the joint for lovey-dovey couples during our times. I’d seen couples sharing dosas, vadas from a common plate. Ahh, a kind of intimacy my friends, Rita and Rajeev shared---a kind of love, they gave to each other…hell, I needed a partner like that!! …I gasped.
Simple minded Gaurav, didn't dwell too long to decide. As I was scraping the papery tips of my fingers, he said, walking determinedly towards his room,' Go and get ready fast.We're going now---We'll go to 'Bookworm' first and then have South Indian meals in the Coffee House.'
I was always a creative and imaginative kid, and the thrill of dressing up for my fictional hero lit up my soul.
We boarded a DTC bus for CP; and I deliberately took the last seat. Vasudha and Ajay used to take the last seats daily in U-spls. Oh, soon I was soaring; stretching my silvery wings over the new skies…The bus was old, so it rattled, shook and vibrated all the way through the Delhi roads. A serene smile was plastered on Gaurav’s face. He looked at me….I was blushing with smugness. It was a long stretch of relief and excitement….
Gaurav kept chatting with me for a long time till the wild, irresponsible me was calm enough to sleep... He was surely baffled and shocked and perhaps slain to feel anything at all...
A raucous sound startled me; and I woke up in embarrassment. My hand was resting on Gaurav’s arm, I pulled it away quickly; noticed that he was staring at it discreetly. I hid both my hands in my lap to save myself from the awkwardness of the moment. Gaurav holding his book in hand, looked over the top of my head out of the window. We were close to CP now.
He cleared his throat, breaking in: ‘You were telling me about the Coffee House and then you fell silent…’ and laughed jovially.
The air was uncomfortable. Suddenly I noticed that his hairy, strong hands were coming to grasp mine. ‘No, I cried, shrinking back. ‘oh, no---that is not what I want at all—please.'
The 'flame' that was glowing within me so lividly all this while 'doused' in seconds.... He was looking perplexed, fearful... but, he insisted, stammering.’ I mean---look at that black insect sitting on your hand, and I was only trying to flick it…’. And his hand shot out and slapped at the huge bumble bee.
I screamed looking at that huge evil-looking insect as it fell down, buzzing in alarm. All the passengers were now staring at us. Gaurav was looking like an angry silent cobra. He was probably more embarrassed than me.
I sat still, till we reached the destination.... all dreams vanished into thin air; people were gaping at us with their mouths open, even the insect’s mouth was wide-open when I saw it last lying dead on the floor...Striking a note of relief, a cuckoo called on the knoll...