Tuesday, 14 January 2014

FIRST LOVE - Short Story 1

He held her hand as she cut the cake. The cake he had specially baked for her, himself, this morning!  It was just a little after midnight.  She never stayed up this late after she had   been diagnosed for severe acid reflux. The “Happy birthday to you...” vocal, played on the old tape recorder in the background. A kingsize bouquet of what seemed like a hundred red roses lay on one side. A small box wrapped in soft pink gelatine and tied in satin ribbons, lay beside it. He was now singing with the tape in a soft trembling voice. Vijay Kumar Bakshi, aged seventy, a retired Defence Services Colonel, her dear old neighbour for as long as she had known...now also her friend, philosopher and guide!

This morning she had rung his doorbell, as usual, twice. “I am busy today, sorry, but you must go” his voice had boomed through the unopened door. Why had he so behaved so strangely, knowing she was the only one that rang his doorbell! What is he so occupied with?’ she thought to herself. Upset and hurt, she quietly retreated.

The cake-cutting ceremony brought tears of joy to her eyes. She, Mrs Naina Virani would be sixty -five today! In the twentynine years of marriage to Mr. Virani, she did not recollect a single celebration of special moments, never for her and certainly not like this! Mr. Virani was a highly educated, sophisticated gentleman, coming from a higher class of the Society. He had retired as the Executive MD of the Chemical Company he worked for. Theirs had been an arranged marriage. Right on the day of her graduation results, her father had disclosed that a fine marriage proposal was awaiting her. “It is almost finalised. A small formality of ring exchange is all that is remaining” he announced. Nobody, including her mother, from her family of seven asked her if she even wished to get married. She was the eldest of her five siblings and a do-away responsibility of her parents! So when her father pronounced, she quietly abided.  Married, she had come to reside in this apartment, which was the only companion from her old times, now, spare Col. Bakshi. He and his wife too, had moved in, as neighbour, a couple of years, after them, and had settled there since.

Young Naina had been a hopeless romantic by nature. She always wanted to love first and marry later.  Her friends teased her saying, “Where are you going to find your dream hero girl? Wish that happens and soon.” Naina was so obsessed with her dream that her voracious reading was directed only to romantic novels. She used to search for the protagonist in those books in every man she met! Friendly by nature, she also had men friends and a couple of them had also shown interest in her beautiful self...however, none of them identified with the ‘hero’ of her dreams. Graduation, now on the threshold, her heart started feeling a strange hopelessness... God, she thought, it seems there is never going to be a ‘first love’...never for me!
And then it was all over fast.  The want of a first love, her way! Her fate and destiny decided.D-day came. She went with the flow. Married now, much against her unspoken will, she walked ‘home’ with ‘him’, Mr. Aman Virani, her husband!

Mr. Virani, her husband, was a strict disciplinarian, a typical no-nonsense guy. He was a great husband and an even greater dad to their daughters, but very unlike Naina. For him, romance existed only in books and movies. Soon life and its ways took toll and the want of a first love and romance took a backseat.
Their daughters grew up fast. Before she even realised they had flown the nest with their partners. Mr. Virani and she were now alone. Life had become very mechanical. Their interests throughout had been so different that even when they sat in the same room, it was hours of silence. He was always into TV or news on current world affairs, while she, her romantic novels.

Maybe because she had so much respite now, she realised,  the small hidden flame of that long lost want, of ‘falling in love’, the romantic way, flickered, yet!!! Though, living that past dream and aspirations only through reading books was all that was left of it now!

She had always envied the life and togetherness of Col and Mrs. Nisha Bakshi.  Both of them seemed to be eternally in love. They went everywhere together, theatre, movies, shopping, just anywhere. Their children, a son and a daughter, brought up so lovingly by them,  had moved away too. Bakshi  Junior, now commissioned  as an officer in the Indian Army had gone away to pick up his responsibility. Daughter Bakshi had move to the United States after her marriage. Unfortunately,  within a  few years after Col Bakshi’s retirement, Nisha passed away.  Naina had cried more than anybody as she saw the end to a lovely romantic tale.  To her,  this couple epitomized ‘romantic love’

The grief that Col Bakshi  felt for his dearest Nisha on her demise, was something she wondered if Mr. Virani would ever feel for her! Fortunate Nisha, she used to think...to have been loved so intensely. But with her passing away, she had noticed a void in him, though he camouflaged it with the great sense of humour he possessed! Thus rolled on life.

A year after Nisha’s death, Mr. Virani also passed away with a massive cardiac arrest. She had wanted to feel and act the pain she had seen of Col Bakshi but strangely she did not feel as much. This insensitivity for her departed better-half had brought in another realisation, that of a lack of love for the man she shared a lifetime with! so what was it she felt for him? Only empathy, in  all these years? Strangely though, it did create a certain vacuum in her plain and hassle-free life. All alone to fend for her otherwise well-provided life now,  she had reached out to ask help of her daughters. They did for a while, but their own family commitments did not allow them to communicate as frequently. Also they were much too far to come running to her calling. Thus alone, she pushed forward, every single day.

One day, alone at the market, struggling to hold onto the umpteen shopping bags, she had found another hand gently taking the bags from her. “Don’t worry Mrs. Virani. I will carry them. I am going home too.” It was Col Bakshi. She gently resisted, but his charming persuasion allowed her to abide. Gratefully, she had invited him for a coffee back home, and he had merrily accepted.Soon there were many occasions where both of them found themselves reaching for each other’s help. Gradually, they discovered,  they shared many a similar interest too. When the mutual greeting of Mr. Bakshi and Mrs Virani changed to Vijay and Naina, was something that left, even them, wondering! Now, they were seen together everywhere, be it  for walks in the parks, movies and theatre, shopping for  vegetable or groceries or just watching TV over snacks and coffee, at each others, they were always together.

And then, her dream ‘happened’. Naina was in love! Love for the ‘first time’ in her life of sixty-five years! The minute it  struck, another equally  unnerving feeling  too struck her senses... a heady feeling of butterflies in the stomach combined with a disturbing mixed one of fear, anxiety and shame......Gosh, she thought, I have been waiting to feel this all my life and it has come but when, When I am sixty something, a widow, and a mother to two married daughters? don’t I have any shame?’. She got up and went about, thinking through the day. Vijay had noticed her fearful and shy stares and asked after her health and well-being.

Soon, the  stories of their togetherness had  reached all ears, so there was no wonder on what followed. Their children, who never bothered how their single parent lived, travelled all the way home, to rebuke them on their doing. They proved they had ‘education’ but no ‘learning’ as none of them empathised either with their parent’s loneliness or  their  need for companionship. They did not understand that this relation was much above a passing fling, which they termed it now and then! After they left, for a while, both Vijay  and Naina, tried her best to live by their children’s  wish, but soon, and on Col’s insistence, they started moving out  together again. After a while, the children stopped nagging, rather, they now completely disassociated with the two.

A year passed by. Naina, her  ‘falling in love’, fulfilled was still conventional by nature and often wished Vijay gave their relation another dimension, if not for her, for the Society’s sake. The thought was weird even to her, but she now strongly wanted to see the end of her dream. Love, ending in marriage was the ‘completion’ of her romantic dream.  However, she never had Vijay showing any inclination to her beside being his kind and loving self and her woman ego would not let her tell him of her wish....So, with her one-sided feeling of enormous love for this man, life moved on.  She had found her ‘first love’ but had  ‘love’ noticed?
And today, she was sixty-five! Sixty-five and with Vijay by her side....Vijay, the first love of her life! She had never felt this way for anyone before. How she wished from the time she realised it, that he would want it as bad too! But he never went beyond being that best and caring friend, except last evening......Last evening, though, she had found Vijay a little distant while she was sharing her day-story with him and on one or two occasions she had caught him staring at her in a strange but  loving way. Totally enamoured, she secretly hoped for her want to materialise...But that was all!

Infact, this morning when she had gone to ask him to get her plumbing repaired, he had not even opened the door and she had feared the worst! She had been upset and hurt since morning.....She had not seen him the whole day...Twice she had rung his doorbell and twice she had been shooed away. So when her doorbell had rung at 11.45 pm, she had woken up from her bed with a scare.She had switched on the light and had slowly gone to open the door....He stood there, her Vijay with a cake, he said he had baked, especially for her, a  bouqet and a small gift-box.. Oh, so he had  remembered her birthday! She was pleasantly surprised. In the next 10 plus minutes, he had set up everything, from cake and candles to the tape and now she was cutting that cake, tears of joy streaming down her face. He fed her a piece, she bit it then he did! He then hugged her and   handed her the big bouquet.

As she got up and turned to put the flowers in the vase, she heard him gently call her name.....She turned and stared and stared, sweet ripples running through her body! He stood there, the box open with a dazzling solitaire inside.....a ring, a ring for her? She smiled. He walked to her and brought out the ring even as he took her hand, kissed it and asked her “Naina, my dearest, will you be mine forever? We share such a beautiful togetherness, shall we give it a name?

“Oh yes”, answered a radiant sixtyfive year old, beaming Naina, her ‘young’ heart pounding, her dream fulfilled!!

Author :  Archana Mujumdar Tambe