We got married on 17th January, 2000, right on the turn of the century. That was good nine years after we had first met and five years after the hot afternoon of 16th of October, 1994, though way past the summer, in the Indian Coffee House in the dusty, sleepy city of Raipur, when you did speak of your feelings to me and all the chatter of the coffee house, went to a sudden silence, shocked at the audacity of the claim, which at that time seemed to have no future. I have no idea why it was so hot in October that year, but it was sweaty, and humid and scary. There were butterflies in the stomach, seemingly disproportionately big ones, and the breathing was suddenly very difficult. She could see that I needed not only a prompt but a prod, and her statement came as that, and I reverted holding on to all the strength that I had, supplemented by one more round of smoke, with mumbled word, with dexterity of a legal expert, careful not to get caught in making a loose statement. All that I could manage in response was “I also think of you, very often” and then rushed to put in the rider, “But you know there is no future to what is happening here. What is happening here is magical and beautiful, but is as short-lived as all magical things are; once this moment passes, you and me will have to move on with fond memories of having experienced the greatest things in life, as a dream which has gone past and which cannot stand the scrutiny of the day.” Scared of the havoc that this singular event might bring in to her life, I asked her to promise that she will not let this moment to hold back her life. Asked her to walk her way as I move forward my separate path, never to hold back life, only be grateful for rewarding us with a moment which makes one feel as if entire life which preceded that as a build-up, a wait, and what is to follow as a trance. We confessed merely as a show of courage, or as an attempt to rid our respective throats of the lump that we both had been carrying along since few months back when we had our first coffee together, and when to my utter surprise, I had discovered a woman who did not look at my chain of black coffees with surprise or disgust, and who could stand up on philosophical arguments against me, pulling her frame up to a height good enough to look me well into the eyes, And I was going to let her go, well, almost.
The face which I had first seen as a second year Engineering student in an Auto-rickshaw, looked at me through the clouds of cigarette smoke hanging in between, waiting for an answer to the question which she, who was to be my wife left out as a statement. No matchstick was needed to light up those cigarettes as one cigarette passed the light to the following one, like a good relay run, each expecting to the one following itself to be the lucky on to be able to see the dawn of a lovely new relation, before dying a fate-less death. That is, till it was the last of the second pack, as the twentieth of the cigarette touched my finger with the heat of its looming death, my trembling hands, with mark of cigarette burn taken up as a proof of manhood and mark of friendship, held those exquisite fair hands with fingers of an artisan, suddenly aware of the ugliness of my palm. With a feigned maturity, which we somehow believed we actually had, we confessed what we both had known for a long time, on the premise, that it was only that passing moment and those few cups of coffee and the cigarette smoke laden air that the relation had as a life. My ill-repute through drunk and dirty college days did not much bother this stunning junior of mine and in spite of my every instinct telling me to look at her as an adversary, for some reason I took to her as a companion, walking the same path as mine. However, as I said, with feigned maturity, we took stock of the societal norms, belonging to different castes, which played great role in Indian marriages even then, and she having younger siblings to marry off and I with no sibling with the responsibility of an only child, decided to separate with the warm light of the little love in our hearts, to carry us through the expected dark days of no love, which we could predictably see in future for us.
We were no fatalists, we did not believe in killing the love just acknowledged and accepted in the solemn witness of those silent, tall, crisp uniformed waiters of Indian Coffee House or ICH as we then called it. We just decided to bask in the glory of pure, bright love, which did not want to go anywhere, and which did not want to take you anywhere. So we spent four days in sheer ecstasy as we went and had tea at the shack-like tea stall on the railway crossing, had tea on the gate of the university next door on the way back from a temple there, and there was poetry and music in the air and spring the walk which would have been downright embarrassing had I not been so much in love. What did not happen in the four years of college, finally did in the end of it. We were like prisoners on parole who just wanted to breathe the air of liberty as much as we could, and inhaled we did like giants, before we bid adieu to each other, never to meet again.
We were to test the Khalil Gibran's "Guide not the way of love, for love, if it finds you worthy enough, will guide your way". It was with this thought I see her off as she stood on the door of the train compartment, seemingly waiting for me to ask her to get down, seemingly helpless at not to find it happening. As the train sped off the station, I turned around and walked, The embrace was not to happen until many years later and When her face started fading as the train sped off, and I could bear it no longer, I turned and with tears running over my face, walked over to the hostel, and when a dear friend, Pranay, tried to console, I simply looked at him and said, "It will happen" with a conviction which stunned both of us equally. Even to this day I do not know what made me say that. The future thus planned presented no opportunity for our respective lives to intersect. The thought of setting someone you love free seemed too tame to my mind at that time, as I concluded to myself, that a love that does not want to possess is not love, it can be communion or taste, it can be friendship, but it can be anything but love. When she had left around ten days before that fateful day she said she was not to back for a month or so, and I knew I was to leave for home in a week or so. I booked on the train to my home, heavy in heart knowing I will not be able to see her, and a lot will be left unsaid, which we so seriously avoided when she was there, and then I missed the train that day and booked for couple of days later, only to find her back in college the next day, unannounced. Something brought her back, as we stole the magical moment on 16th of October.
Some months later, I was in Vadodara to meet a college senior, went to station to get the train ticked and bumped into her, of all people, who was there for some entrance test for job. Travel home was put off for a day as I helped find a hotel with her younger brother. Checking in at around twelve at night, I walked back and as she came downstairs to see me, the stunned full moon stood witness to our first embrace, at the hotel gate. Embarrassed, and assuring that we will move on, we quickly moved off, she to her room and I to the railway platform, where I was to spend the night. Why did I go to Vododara, why did she come to the same city for the exam (this was her second choice), was IPCL conspiring to get us together.
It was only later, when I landed in the same city as hers to pursue my masters, that I could see the truth in what I had said with no reason and rationale. I remember, it was then that I confided to her, that what I hoped for earlier, when I said what I said, now I know for certain that it will happen. Alain De Botton would say that when in love, we see what we wanted to see, we hear what we wanted to hear, but whatever he may say, whatever my love for stoic philosophy might suggest as plausible, what could explain that I landed in Indore, pursuing my Masters in International Business, after a totally half-hearted interview (I remember, when asked what I understood by International Business, I had responded, that why would I come to join the course, if I already knew what it was) and still making it through for some strange reason. I knew going to Indore, I was going to see her, and on the way bought ‘Pukhraj’ by Ghulzar, and when I presented it to her, I got a gift from her..the same book. What could explain that we both would be buying the same book by noted writer Gulzar, separately to gift each other. So we did masters, which was done which all my heart into it, in between meeting up in Coffee house, spending time and discussing all things, business, life, philosophy, over cups of coffee, hers strong filter, mine black.
The course ended and I moved out again to Mumbai, for a job, as she stayed back looking for one. In between, there was one meeting in Mumbai, against the sea, on marine drive, when she came there for some competitive exam. Love those days was limited to escorting her to the examination center, with her younger brother in tow. By that time, I had stopped doubting love, and self doubt gave way to a love, assured and confident in its being. It had to happen, and we were merely incidental. We were the chosen two for the love which is so rare in this world.
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Intellect leaves little room for surprises; she did well in her competitive exams as I had expected her to. It would be foolish to credit my love and support over the phone for around her to have played any role in it, but I did feel as proud as an artisan on the completion of his masterpiece. Another feeling however comes with the completion of a job well done is the feeling of losing it to the world. It came over, and as we struggled to convince our parents in accepting our alliance, social differences notwithstanding, failing miserably against a calm, strong opposition, which expected the love or anything of that sort to wither away, in the face of it, I once again threw my arms up in the air and gave it three days, within which it was to happen or was to never happen. I threw the challenge up in the air and something caught it up and stood to face it. Against all odds, she did appear in the time that I had left open for me, and as a ray of light through a small gap in the rock over my head, she stood there, and there love had indeed, guided us in to doing we both had imagined ourselves incapable of doing and married, we did on 17th of January, 2000. She moved to Delhi, we shifted from our slum-like existence of initial around three months to a liveable space, as we added to the grand cutlery of two spoons and one plate and one mattress to sleep on earth, and of course a bucket and an earthen pot. Abandoned by our respective parents, who held their positions in their respective societies too significant to bear the blemish of love which knew no norms and rules, which happened against all practical wisdom, we started building our world, brick by brick, at least metaphorically.
The first major test of faith came about too soon as I faced a life threatening disease, which saw me quitting the cigarette, and the smokes went out of our lives. As I gasped for breath and was lifted on to the Ambulance; she shaken and scared sat there with tears flowing, I woke for a minute from anesthesia, and confidently told her,” Don’t worry, nothing will happen.” Something in heart of my heart, made me very confident, all this could not have been a futile exercise, our story cannot end unceremoniously at that point, my vision of what was around that day in ambulance was marred by dizziness, but my vision of future was vivid.
The tiny child of love was struggling on feet at that time, and will reach adulthood ten years down in 2008 when our child was to walk on its tiny feet. Today, when twelve years down the line, I look at the tiny, four years old angel on my side, sleeping as calmly as pristine dew, just fallen before the break of the dawn on the bright, young and green leaves of the plant in the garden, the thought again echoes in my mind," And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course". Oh, I did follow the course which love had shown and in spite of the moments of self-doubt in between, what a journey it has been, and then I crane my neck further to look at her mother, still so serene and believing and calm, and I think of the famous story of Jeffery Archer in the book called "A Quiver Full of Arrows" which ends with "and legend has it that they were never apart for more than few hours." I hope, my daughter when she grows up finds a love as true as ours and will have the calm of her mother and arrogance of her father to pursue it, with as much of confidence and defiance. It will not be a journey of living happily ever after, it never is, it is about living lovingly ever after. A journey of togetherness in which the option of living without one another is non-existent, a journey in which you decide nothing in your life will have more prominence more than love, not your sadness, not your egos, not your anger. It is a conscious decision to agree that love is the non-negotiable part of our contract of co-existence. Love does happen in this lifetime, and it does survive the cold winds of time, only you need to keep the faith. Thank you, my loving wife to keep up with the faith, amidst eccentricities of time and of mine. Hope my daughter, when she grows up, will read it and be able to discover something extraordinary in seemingly ordinary lives of her parents lives, and will able to discover and trust in that extra-ordinariness, which is called love.
But I must say that story above had convinced me not to question the existence of Love. I am not saying so after reading it, rather I understood it when I saw, witnessed and lived with them post 2000..
Congratulations to Bhaiya & Bhabhi.
Bhaiya- I am sure the Novel Would not be less than Love Story, or PS I Love You, Pride & Prejudice..I think you should think of penning it down..