“That is too cheesy a line for you to be a writer.”
“And that is a dialogue copied from Sex And The City.”
“And how do you know that? Boys really don't watch it, do they?”
“It has its quirks, and I have a thing for Miranda.”
Despite all my misgivings, I’d decided to help Sameer out in his quest to write a mystery – romance – thriller – tragic – yet – comic novel for his ladylove. Not that I was a novelist par excellence, I simply happened to have a better hang of grammar and the basic language better than he did. He needed it, considering he was in love with the English topper of the school. With great patience and gradual prodding, I convinced him to shorten it to a romantic dark humoured novel, which was undoubtedly easier on the sanctity of the reader’s mind. Sameer was determined to be her prince in shining grammar and to say that he fell short of that was like saying that Hitler was a bit pissed with the Jews.
“With great power comes great responsibility, he was determined to live up to the ones entrusted to him.”
“And don't forget to quote Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spiderman on that one.”
“Gawd, Avantika. Will you for once stop raining on my creative parade?”
“It seems more like a one man walk at the moment”
“Fine, fine. Lets get on with the novel shall we? How ‘bout, we add a strange sharpshooter in the fray?”
“Because we have nothing better to do?”
Today was the last day we had to complete this god-forsaken project. Tomorrow we would print it out and give it to Urvashi. I felt sorry for Urvashi, on more than one occasion. She was an intelligent and pretty girl, simply ignored by both girls and boys on account of her good friendships with boys and her marvellous command over languages. Boys tend to get intimidated you see, by girlfriends who can speak five languages. But Sameer was different. In spite of the painfully obvious fact that he knew all of his English from re-runs of old American serials and the latest men’s magazines, he was ready to make an absolute linguistic fool of himself in front of her. He’d become convinced that becoming a writer was the only way he could win her heart and nothing could stop him. Except maybe, his English. In a flash of what I'm sure was intelligence blinding inspiration, he decided to enlist my help and followed me everywhere with a wounded puppy look. I had to give in.
“Avantika. WHATEVER. Just Help Me.”
“Right. Back to the story. We have two main characters, a reason for them to fall in love and a problematic situation that says no-no to love. All we need now is to get rid of the situation.”
“Let’s kill it off.”
“Brilliant. Let’s enlist the sharpshooter to track down and kill the 2000 km distance between them because they need to attend their final year of college.”
“The girl and the boy represent me and Urvashi right? So, let’s remove all the college and blah blah blah and write Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy. They get together. Will you be my girlfriend?”
I just blinked at him.
“Uh huh. Amazement crashing over you like waves on a bedrock, right?”
“Crashing yes. Amazement, not so sure about that.”
“Avantika, I don't care. This was a stupid idea to start with.”
And then I saw angels coming down on our heads and singing Hallelujah. He’d finally realized what a waste of time this was.
“I’ll write her a poem.”
“Yea. You know, the roses are red, something is blue sorts and say it out loud to her.”
“That’ll be one helluva declaration of love.”
“I got it.
Roses are red,
Converses are blue,
I say these lines because,
My love for you is true.”
More blinking at open-mouthed gaping followed.
“So I should go with it?”
“Why not? There’s nothing worse that can happen.”
“Cool. Awesome. Urvashi, here I come!”
And all I could think of was, “and there you go, thrown out of the window!”… Next day, I found Sameer waiting for me, apparently in dire need of some blessings. He was sweating like a pig and was about to start crying for mommy when he saw Urvashi. It seemed like the heavens knew of our plan today, considering Urvashi hadmade an extra effort to look pretty today. Actually, they did. Urvashi and I had been friends for the past six years and when Sameer came to me for help, I couldn’t help but tell her about the whole plan. She had fallen for Sameer at that very moment and was looking forward to the story, choosing to ignore how possibly silly it could be. The idea of a poem, made her even more excited. Finally, she would be able to hear it.
“Hey Sameer, how’re you?”
“Urvashi, I have something to say. You see, I kind of like you. And I like writing poems but I cant even write a decent poem because the one I wrote for you sucks. So, I was hoping that you’d help me fix it a bit.”
“Sure. Can I hear it?”
“Roses are Red, Converses are Blue, I say these lines because my love for you is true.”
I swear I saw people standing around them roll their eyes.
“Sameer, that was possibly one of the sweetest things anybody has ever said to me. I’d love to help you fix up the poem.”
I almost laughed. Sameer almost fainted. People did stare. And then Sameer came to thank me and swore that their first kid would be named after me. I told him to shoo away and caught sight of Urvashi standing behind him, giving me a conspiratorial wink and two thumbs up. Well, what Sameer didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, I thought, sending him off with Urvashi.
Har lamha yeh pyaar ka afsana hoga,
Dil kahe toh jaan humari jurmaana hoga,
In baaton mein jaadoo kab kar diya tumne,
Jawaab milna iss sawal ka dastoor naa hoga.
Socha tha ki niyaati se mil chuke the hum saalon pehle,
Pyaar iss dil ne mehsoos kiya, toh bas thoda hi tha,
Ek nasiyat di thi logon ne mujhe, pyaar na karna,
Tumaari muskuraahat ne usse bhi ek chutki mein bhula diya.
What could be more perfect in life than that? A loophole that every student dreams of in their most beautiful dreams and scathing nightmares.
The gentle swaying of the train didn’t do much for her mood. The plain greens outside the window reminded her of his shirt. The shirt that was neatly folded in her arms, reminding her of the last two days. Her mind churned over the past seven years, the on and off meetings, the love, the security. He was always there for her, a phone call away.
She switched off her phone, settled down comfortably and plugged in her CD player. She put “Big Yellow Taxi” on repeat, falling into a deep sleep. She saw dreams of him, standing next to his taxi, waiting for her to come out of the platform. The same conversation would follow every time.
“Hello princess, did you have a good journey?”
“Yeah, I did. I missed you more this time, though. They don't make men like you anywhere.”
“I'm there for you, always. Chalo, lets drop you home.”
“No lunch today? Did Kaka’s Dhaba shut down?”
“No, silly. I have work. It’s an important day for me. I must reach the Temple before 2.”
Despite our promise of not asking more than required, I felt curious. When I looked back at him, his eyes were twinkling. He was daring me to ask. He started whistling. That was a signal. I knew it. We both shared this trait, whistling when we wanted to spill a secret. But I still didn’t ask. I couldn’t risk it. Men, they get offended more easily than women.
Ten minutes into the ride, he started whistling again. I finally asked.
“Why are you going to the Temple?”
“That’s my business.”
“To ogle at all the single women, perhaps?”
“Tell me naa!!”
“There is a puja for someone special. It’s her birthday. You can come if you like.”
The words piqued a curiosity that I didn’t know existed. Her birthday, he said. I’d always thought of myself as the only girl in his life. Foolish, I know. How could I expect him to wait for me eight months a year? Still, I thought. We had shared a special bond. We liked the same kind of food; we both preferred football over cricket and both had an undying love for the melodies of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He was a free soul, driving a taxi to pass the time, living off the riches left to him by his father. He was the adventure in my cautious soul.
Noticing my face, he frowned, guessing my thoughts before I could say them out loud to myself.
“Don't worry, it's not another woman.”
“Hmm, we have a half hour. I’ll tell you all about her. She was my childhood sweetheart. We loved each other like crazy. Inseparable till the day our parents decided to fix our marriage. That ruined us.”
“Ok, hold on here. That’s something new. You both were married, so then, what was the problem? You have a perfect love story, don't you?”
“Ha, if only the world were that simple. Two years into the marriage, we were still childless. My parents were desperate for a grandchild and they made our lives miserable. Some two and a half years after the marriage, they tried to separate us. On one occasion, they even tried to set up another bride for me. That got her parents really mad and they took her away.”
“Hold on. They did what?”
“They were progressive people, they couldn’t bear the thought of their only daughter being hurt like that.”
“They sound like my grandparents. My mom is a single mother. Her parents encouraged her to bring me up the best she could, in spite all odds.”
“Hmm, the last I heard, she had had a child and was raising it alone. You kind of resemble her, you know. You remind me of Vasundhra, you do.”
Vasundhra. The name resounded in my head. That was my mother’s name.
He looked at me, stunned.
“In flesh and blood. That’s my full name. Namrata Singh.”
Before he could say anything else, the Temple came into view. We stopped and looked at each other, searching the other’s eyes for that one little piece that was missing in our lives. I sought my father, he sought his love. Slowly, he opened his mouth.
“Do you have a photograph?”
I pulled out mom’s photo from my wallet and thrust it in his hands. His eyes said everything. I had found my father. We turned back and sat into the taxi, not knowing what to do next. I asked him to drop me home, where mom would be waiting for me. And for him. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t bear to lose her all over again. He dropped me and left.
“Mom, why did you tell me my father died before I was born?”
“Because he did.”
“Mom, do you remember Anil Sharma? Your husband, my father, Anil Sharma?”
I told her about him, how we had met eight years ago and since then he had been picking me up from the stations and dropping me wherever I needed to go. How he had become an important part of my life. She looked at me, for what seemed like an eternity. Finally she spoke.
“He was my husband, but not your father. After I left his house, we divorced and I married another man, who died soon after. I didn’t love your father, so he’s never been mentioned about ever since. Anil is not your father.”
Reeling, I stepped out of the house and called him up. Called to say that he could come and reclaim his love. Called, only to find out that he had slipped on the stairs of the temple and was now dead. Called, only to be told that I could come and collect his belongings. Called, only to know that I had a father, once again.
The next day, I decided to leave, leaving my holiday’s midway. Mom understood, she always did. Sitting in the train, I kept his green shirt close to me. It still felt like he was standing there, smiling. I started crying. Crying, over the man, who could have been my father.