Firstly, sorry for my absence from the blogworld. It has been a hectic time for me. Sleep deprivation has been rampant. In this cold, going to take a bath has been like going to war. Times flies here, yet, at the end of the day if you ask me - aaj kya kiya? I would be at loss of words. These are my last days at MDI, before I leave for Germany so I want to enjoy these days fully. Will let you know more about these adventures.
Anyway, my friends have been wanting me to write a romantic story, so here goes. For all you people out there...
Note: I am deviating from the usual love stories and entering into a much serious domain. Hope I do justice to the story.
It was quite a time to be born... India was being born, breaking the shackles of 150 years of British rule.
The year was 1945. I used to stay in Multan with my parents. I was 20 years old then, studying in the local Arts college. I was majoring in English. My father was of the opinion that the British are successful because they know English. My father was a zamindar, which is an euphemism for calling him a British puppet who took money from poor Indians and forwarded it to the Government, the English government that is, in the process getting a hefty commission...My grandfather gave up zamindari when he saw how exploitative the practice was.
I never wanted to study B.A. , in fact I didnt want to study at all... I wanted to be a painter.
The reason why I stayed in college was because of Tasleen. Tasleen was this girl who lived in the house next to my house. We didnt have a flat system then, every family owned a house, one with a courtyard, backyard and a terrace... Her terrace had a small garden in which grew lovely Marigolds.
In the winters, it would get very cold. In Delhi, winter is a lot less harsh compared to Multan. In the mornings, I would study on the terrace to soak in the sunlight... She would come on her terrace with a pitcher of water to water the plants.
Her beauty was unparalleled. I had never seen anything as beautiful as her... Her long hair, her slender frame, the way she gracefully bent to water the plants... Only the marigolds in her Garden could try to match her beauty... but would still fail...
I would hide behind the book I was reading/pretending to read and would catch a glimpse or two. Those days we could not leer at girls (though we wanted to). It was considered impolite.
She would never even look at me. She was 2 years younger to me, I had been to a boys school next to her school, I was now her senior in college, I had been her neighbour since ages now, but I had never got an opportunity to talk to her. Whenever I had to go to her house to get some curd or sugar, her mother would open the door and usher me into the house. She would treat me to samosas and jalebis but there would be no sign of Tasleen. Come to think of it, Tasleen's mother was beautiful too. You could see where Tasleen got her looks from...
And now here we were, just 50 meters away from each other, separated only by a terrace wall and she wouldn't even acknowledge my presence.
Those days these local goons would wait outside the college gates to tease girls. Most of us, that included me, were scared of them. One day, she was walking back home from college. She was probably the prettiest girl in college and quite naturally a target for the thugs to tease. I was walking behind her at a distance. At first, the teasing was only verbal. Then one of the guys touched her dupatta. I was furious. I ran towards her and held her hand and stood as a shield in front of her. I told them that the girl was my neighbor's daughter and it was my duty to escort her to her house. My voice was shaky, trembling... but the words and my intent were clear. They let us go.
All the time that we were walking, her eyes were transfixed on the ground. Mine were transfixed on her. I was walking withing three feet of Tasleen. It was a dream come true. She left without without even saying a thank you. Come to think of it, why should she, she was doing me a favour walking with me...
I kept thinking about her all day. Books, studies, groceries, bicycles... they all seemed so unimportant right now.. I went to the terrace to clear my thoughts and there she was, drying her long hair. There is something lovely about a girl's wet hair... I kept staring at her... She looked at me... and smiled...
I graduated in the summer of 1946. My father got me a job in a college in Amritsar. I didnt want to go. But his decision was final. At least that is what I had been told ever since I was a kid. Though he always wanted the best for me, then, I couldnt help think that he was any different from those thugs outside college who impose their will.
That hot afternoon, when everyone was asleep, she came to the door of my house and said,
"Are you going to leave for Amritsar?"
That was the first full sentence I had heard from her mouth. I kept looking at her.
"Are you?" She asked again.
"Yes." I answered.
I kept quiet. I didnt know what to say.
"Please don't leave." She said.
She had tears in her eyes. She didnt get an answer.
It was 45 degrees outside. I kept my suitcase on the cycle rickshaw. I was supposed to catch the train at the station to Amritsar. I looked at her terrace, she wasnt there... The cyclewala started to pedal the rickety rickshaw... I looked behind at her door, for the last time... The rickshaw set into motion.. Her door opened... She walked out.. barefoot, in that scorching heat... She kept looking at me, like she would never see me again...
It turned out to be true... I never did see her again.
Her family left Multan, which became a part of Pakistan after the partition of 1947. Someone told me that they sold off the house in Multan. Where did they go, nobody knew.
I knew, if I found marigolds in a garden, trying to be more beautiful than they actually are, as if competing with someone, that would be her garden...
In 1994, my Grandson, Surabh, completed his M.S. from the US. He found the love of his life there. They wanted to get married...
While raising up my son, I had been very liberal. I tried hard to be not like my father. My son became a scientist. He now heads the ISDRO for the Government of India. I think he got Sheila's brains.
I got married to Sheila in 1950. I searched for Tasleen in Delhi, Amritsar and Chandigarh for 3 years. Eventually I had to concede to the demands of my mother. She wanted me to get married.
Sheila was lovely. She was intelligent, elegant and kind. She was everything that a man would want in a woman. I lost her 5 years ago. A huge void was left in my heart.
I still couldnt help feeling that I had wronged Tasleen. Her "Please don't leave." would echo in my head. Maybe I didnt search for her right, or maybe I didnt give it enough time. I should have had searched more...
When Surabh came back from the US, I could see he was lovestruck.
"You really love her, huh?" I asked.
The frank and friendly relationship that I shared with him allowed me to be that intrusive.
"Yeah baba. I really do." He said.
"So wont you show your baba her photo?" I said jokingly.
But I forgot he was my grandson and equally jocular.
He pulled out an old photo of a small girl of 3 or 4 years old out of his wallet.
"See, this is my girl, her name is Pritha" he said pointing to her.
I removed my spects from my shirt pocket to see.
"And this, is her grandma." He pointed to a old lady who was playing with the girl in the photo.
I looked closely at the woman in the photo...
"Could I meet Pritha?"
"Ofcourse, we are going there on Sunday. Mom and Dad want to meet her too..."
On Sunday, I dressed in my best suit. Carried my best cane. The woman in the photo was none other than Tasleen. I couldnt believe I had finally found her.. and how! My grandson fell in love with her granddaughter! And that too half a world away...
I bet her grand daughter was as pretty as her. No wonder Surabh fell for her.
Our car parked outside their bungalow. We walked through the garden. The garden had the loveliest marigolds I had seen in a long long time. I knew they were competing. And this house had two pretty women they had to compete with...
We entered the living room. Surabh helped me sit on the sofa. I was excited for a 70 year old and I guess, it showed.
I waited for Tasleen to come out. Would she be happy to see me after so many years? What will I say to her?
A photo on the wall caught my eye. It was Tasleen's photo...she looked so beautiful... the photo had a garland of Marigolds around it.
I had found her... I had lost her... A tear rolled down my cheek...
Dedicated to Sulabh Kakkar, a friend, whose Grandfather had to leave their hometown in Multan in the partition of 1947.
Marigold : A short story
Editor in chief arshat chaudharyCurrent Issues: Amritsar, delhi, india, Mulan, short story