Sunday, October 9, 2011

My chance meeting with First Love

I was finally there. At her door.

It was more a sort of gateway. An iron grille through which I could see shimmering green plants in earthen pots neatly lined up, reaching the first door in the lobby. I let my eyes drench themselves luxuriously in that refreshing green nectar.

Then I looked for the door bell.
Oh! There were three of them. Each systematically numbered to correspond to the flat it was meant for. I pressed the appropriate one and waited.

I was so thankful to have eluded the unexpected morning drizzle, but my hair as I imagined was in bad shape. Unsettled and unkempt more due to the polluted blows of the congesting traffic than by the pleasant breeze. So without much ado, took out the hair brush that I carry and ran it through my hair superficially.
I was stuffing the brush back in my handbag when a bunch of keys clinked sweetly and I saw a woman opening the lock.

Was this the woman I had been trying to locate for the last one year in the vast multitude of Bombay ?
And now that she was in front of me, I felt a little nervous.

But my feminine instincts were well in place, alert and sturdy, and had already got busy assessing the woman who had by now opened the door 
From the careless length of her dress to the well etched-out wrinkles on her face, from the pale curtains lazily swaying with the mild breeze to the gleaming six-foot clock standing all by itself majestically near the wall, the mind wanted to take in every detail as I walked in behind her

She told me to be comfortable, but herself looked a bundle of nerves. Her manner openly suggestive that I should hurry up with the purpose of my visit.
Strangely I did not feel the compulsion to obey her.
On the contrary attributing that uneasiness to advancing years I allowed her time to relax and compose !!

An inch or two shorter than me, she looked stout in her loose blue A-line dress that reached well below her knees. Hair chopped very short were extremely scanty. In fact I could see her scalp !!!
A well-fitted pair of glasses encased her eyes as if ironically shielding her vision and limiting her horizons.

The furniture in the spacious, well-ventilated living room was simple. While walls were adorned with tasteful contemporary paintings in neat wooden frames the dining table was an antique. Everything in the room seemed to connect the past with the present. The giant Grandfather Clock was in perfect working condition, showing the right time, chiming flawlessly. Just like the inmates of the house, in their twilight years, but fairly healthy and courageously braving age-related hazards.

"That's me" She said, quietly, without exhibiting much emotion, as I placed the computer printout of a black and white photograph before her.
She kept gazing at the picture. There she was ... a young girl with deep large eyes, and thick black hair. Innocence and simplicity adorning her like precious jewels. Draped in a light chiffon sari, she looked graceful and attractive.

I waited for her to say more.
But till now for my ten lines, she had spoken one. My already weak conversational skill was fast depleting. Sitting at the edge of the chair, as I decided that it was time for me to leave, I heard her voice.

"How is he?" She asked.
"He" was the cord, the bond that had brought her and me face to face. "He" had sent me a half century old address and equally antiquated photographs, with a desire to know her whereabouts and welfare.
"He is fine" I replied.
"Married?"
"Yes!" ( Did she by any chance expect him to be unmarried??? )
"He's a grandfather now!" I said volunteering more information than asked for hoping she would share my happiness and excitement, and open up a bit. But nothing changed on her face. Without any expression she popped up another question:
"Is he happy?"
Now I was taken aback.
Honestly I never expected him to be unhappy. As far as I knew he had married the woman of his choice. His children were doing well. He was a contented grandfather.

I stared at her closely. She was patiently waiting for my answer.
I have no specific reason for this, but to me she looked like someone who had been left to wait for eternity.

But she was too dignified to be pitied. My reply was quick.
"Oh! Yes ... Of Course..." I said hurriedly trying to sound convincing.
She looked at me. And this time I could hear her silence. Though very fleetingly. Unable to give any meaning to it.
There definitely was something about her telling me that she knew him more than I could ever claim.

Now she took the other picture. That was of the gentleman and his wife. They were a couple who really seemed to have been matched by God Himself.
She looked at the picture and said,
"She's beautiful!"
I smiled. She paused.
Some minutes went by. Then came another query.
"How many children do they have?"
I gave her all the details I had about them.

Oh! My God ... !!!!!!!
Not another pause, I thought. Her contemplative pauses were making the air around me heavy.

Gathering herself painfully due to a hurting back, she got up and brought out some fine chocolates from the refrigerator.
She offered them to me with politeness, saying:
"You've come to my house for the first time, you must have something sweet."
Was this some kind of a serene celebration?
An expression of happiness at having heard from a dear old friend ...

She said she was happy to know about him and his family and that I should thank him that he still remembered her.
Suddenly I found myself wondering how would I react if at seventy a long lost friend came calling on me similarly.
The thought of it was exhilarating.
But one look at her dampened my spirits.
Could the past freeze so permanently that no amount of warmth from the present ever revive it ?

Trying to bridge the void that among other things, history too had created between her and him, I informed her how at seventy-five plus this friendly and sociable gentleman kept in touch with everyone through internet.
She looked disinterested.
She had no idea how a computer worked.
Her son and daughter were too busy to help her keep in touch with her friends.

Silence returned.

I had done my best to break the ice.
It would have been a pleasure getting two friends back in touch.
But she wanted to live in a world where she was now comfortable. She would not give the bygones the comfort of a revisit.

As I got up to leave she gave me a tight hug. That was about as far as she would go with an emotional outburst.

The next moment she was back to her usual expressionless, smile-less suffocating self ...
and I was glad that the meeting was getting over .......

She walked to the door with me and just before I stepped out she held my hand and said:
"I have a nice husband, but he is very strict. You see, I don't want to spoil my family life. I have been married for more than forty-five years now. My husband was curious to know who this man out of the blue was? Why was he inquiring about me after so many years?"
Her eyes looked at me as if trying to trust me.
Did I see a longing in there ... ?

I was stupefied into silence. But she was speaking with curt clarity.
"Don't give him my address or telephone number ... I don't want to ... you know what I mean ... you can understand no ... ???????"
At one moment she sounded firm and the very next she seemed to be pleading ...

I was stunned.
NO.
I did not understand her then.
I still don't.

Is the institution of marriage so fragile that even at seventy five plus ... with a golden marriage anniversary behind you ... a woman cannot meet / get in touch on phone or email with an old friend who was dear to her for the fear that her marriage of fifty years would break down ...

I don't understand this at all

8 comments:

suhail zaman said...

excellent very touching

Zohra Javed said...

Thankyou Suhail...feels really nice to see ur cmnts

Sujaman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sujata said...

Ufff!!! Am spell bound more with the way you have described (if i use the word 'so well' it will not do justice), touchingly, the way you have described each and every smallest detail that i could visualise myself standing at 'her' door!! I love the way you write!! It has got a humane touch!! Glad that i met you!!

vinny kohli said...

Soooooooooooooooo touching.... made me emotional.. ☺☺

sulochana said...

आप जो लिखते है वो दिल कहिये या जिंदगी के बहोत करीब लगता है.लाजवाब.

sulochana said...

आप जो लिखते है वो दिल कहिये या जिंदगी के बहोत करीब लगता है.लाजवाब.

Zohra Javed said...

Many Many heartfelt THANKS Sujata , Vinny ji , Sulochana ji for the generous and kind words of encouragement

Very precious to me