Chapter-1. Grade-VIII, 1986
We were both young when I first saw you
I close my eyes and the flashback starts
“Hey, Tims, what kind of stories are your favourite?” Amit asked excitedly.
“ Hmmm! Love stories….” I replied happily for I had just read the abridged version of Shakespeare’s love saga, ‘Romeo and Juliet.’
Chapter-2 Grade-X, 1988
Sounding like a lullaby, her monotonous tone would have led to somnolence but then the mind resisted it. Words of mischief exchanged hands and unintentionally they landed where they shouldn’t have. He looked behind completely surprised and met many pairs of horrified, pleading eyes.
I’m standin’ there
On a balcony in summer air
See the lights, see the party, the ball gowns
See you make your way through the crowd
And say, “Hello”
Little did I know
That you were Romeo…..
Hesitating, he opened that folded paper, and hell broke loose.
My love story was exposed. I was out in the direct glare of the sun and there was nowhere to hide.
It is a strange world full of weird people. I loved him but he didn’t. So, even when he read that love note, he couldn’t guess it was from me. A secret that the whole class knew except him.
Living in the 80s’and the 90s’ had its own charm. Love stories were unlike anything that we see now.
I, a silly schoolgirl had no other agenda in life. To be in love and feel the romance of Romeo and Juliet was all that I craved for.
School was a boring, mundane affair with nothing much appealing till, Rishi entered the scene. Not the Rishi Kapoor but I must confess, he bore some resemblance to him. His naughty eyes and killer smile, greeted me when he, out of nowhere made an appearance. His deep, soulful voice kept on ringing in my ears long after he was gone.
“Excuse me, Where is 9thB?”
I, turned and found this tall, dark handsome boy standing with a school bag on his shoulder. His sparkling white uniform made me wonder, ‘Is it Lalithaji’s Surf?’ He was standing there waiting for the answer. I opened my mouth but couldn’t speak. A love song was already reverberating in the background and I was spellbound.
With a jolt, I came back when he tapped on my shoulder. My mouth was dry and I couldn’t breathe. Fever of first love was on the rise. I simply pointed in the direction of the class. He nodded his head. An amused smile was playing on his lips as he headed towards the classroom.
Two glorious months had passed since Rishi entered as a new admission. He was bright, witty, and a good student. He would always be so well turned out that I wondered if they had a laundry business. He had already scored many brownie points with teachers and was climbing the success ladder at a great pace.
Every day I would sit quietly observing all his expressions and idiosyncrasies. Many imaginary conversations had taken place between him and me. My real world existed somewhere else where Rishi and I had our own ‘happily ever after.’
I was intelligent enough to realize that he and I were poles apart. ‘So, opposites must attract’. For a change, I applied my science lessons to good use.
‘He is Ollie and I am Jenny.’ I mused. ‘We may be from different worlds, but we are destined to be together.’
My confidence had touched new heights since I read Erich Segal’s ‘Love Story.’
Whosoever doubted if we, human beings could live only on love and fresh water hadn’t met the likes of me or the French. I was blind and deaf to anything that happened beyond Rishi.
The last day of school before the summer break found me entangled in mixed emotions. I would have been tormented with the thought of not seeing him for the next six weeks, had it not been for one thing. Mom had promised to get me something that I had been asking for a long time. Barbara Cartland’s romantic novels collection and Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’, awaited me at home acting as the conciliators.
Hurriedly, I packed my stuff and moved towards the gate. My quick steps suddenly wobbled and I paused. Close to the school gate, Rishi was standing with a group of boys, laughing at somebody’s joke. My heart skipped a beat.
I would never know what triggered my weird action but I moved forward and stood right in front of Rishi. Maybe I was frustrated that he never noticed me. “Do you have five minutes?” I asked. Everyone stared at me. Many of them were smirking.
“No.” I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard him say that. He was smiling.
I knew I had made a fool of myself. Ashamed, embarrassed, and blinded by tears, I ran without realising it was the main road with heavy traffic. Before I could fathom it, I was hit by something. I heard someone scream behind me before I lost consciousness.
I woke up to find myself in an unfamiliar bed. My head was throbbing and my left eye wouldn’t open. My left arm was stiff and my head was bandaged. Slowly, I became aware of the surroundings realising I was in the hospital. My mother was sitting beside me on a small plastic chair, chanting something fervently. I closed my eyes again. Everything came back to me. Rishi’s mocking voice could no more make me angry. I was disappointed. My love story had failed before it started. I tried turning my face in the other direction but couldn’t. I must have whimpered in pain for mom suddenly went quiet. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and held my hand softly.
“Thank God Timmy, you are awake.” A sob escaped her lips but she smiled with tears in her eyes.
“How are you feeling? We were horrified when Amit called up. He acted with a great presence of mind and your school authorities also did not waste any time in bringing you here. Now that you are conscious, you are going to be fine, my darling. We will not press charges against the car driver.” She lightly touched my cheek. I nodded my head, feeling ashamed at my reckless behaviour. It seemed she wasn’t aware who caused the accident.
My throat was dry. I asked for water.
“Wait, I will let the nurse know.”
She rushed out of the room and Rishi entered.
He stood there at the door for some time. Hesitatingly he took a step forward. Shock and disbelief mingled with shame was clearly written on his face. That he was remorseful, gave my heart some joy. ‘Maybe, there is a chance.’ I thought.
“ Ho..w are y…ou Trimbika?” I was better the moment Rishi spoke with concern in his voice. All my pains and aches vanished magically. I tried smiling with my cracked lips. He looked relieved for he came closer a little more confidently.
“I am so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I was just making fun of you. Your sudden appearance and abrupt question in front of all those boys made me nervous. I shouldn’t have done that.” His honesty touched my heart.
I tried to shake my head but I was hit by excruciating pain. I couldn’t focus anymore. So, I closed my eyes.
It took me almost a month to recover but this was my best summer break ever. Every evening one or the other classmate would drop in and along came he, whom my heart wanted to see.
Rishi was there everyday, sometimes bringing a book, cracking some silly jokes or sneaking in spicy samosas that he knew I loved. His sense of humour was remarkable and if life could go on like that, I would be sick forever but my wounds healed sooner than I expected.
Monsoons and love stories go hand in glove. Rains showered me with inexplicable thrill and I knew now why peacocks spread their wings and dance in joy at the sight of rains. I too was experiencing that pure exhilaration and I wanted to do the same.
This surely was some divine love for strangely, it did not matter to me if Rishi reciprocated my feelings or not. It was enough that he was my friend. He would talk and share his dreams. I was in my happy space.
“ Hey, Tim, what are your future plans?” He would ask.
“ I don’t know. I have no plans. May be I will travel or get married. And you?”
I want to join the army. For me, there is no ‘maybe.’
He was telling the truth.
Last Day of School 1990
“Rish, let’s meet in the evening. There is this new place near Neelam theatre. They serve great Chowmein.” I asked excitedly, though afraid that he would refuse and he did.
“ Sorry, no outings till I take my NDA exam. You know, what it means to me.”
I nodded trying not to look disappointed.
“Tim, try to be serious about your career now. It is high time.”
I looked away. He still did not know my future plans. He never guessed even when he saw his name written underneath that love song which reached him accidentally in the classroom. Sometimes I would feel, he knew it and was just pretending to be ignorant but I was optimistic.
Present Day State Of Confusion
I was cryin’ on the staircase
Beggin’ you, “Please don’t go, ” and I said
Romeo, take me somewhere we can be alone
I’ll be waiting, all there’s left to do is run
You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess
It’s a love story, baby, just say, “Yes”
“Mira, where are you going so early? I asked.
“Mama, I told you. I have my interview today. Don’t you remember? This is what I had been waiting for.”
“ Yes, darling.” I said, trying to recollect. My eyes met hers and there was annoyance in them. I was perplexed. ‘What did I do now?’ I gave her an uncertain smile but she just shook her head as if disappointed.
“Forget it, mama. It is alright.”
Before I could explain, Mira was gone.
For a long time, I kept on looking at the closed door. ‘All love stories end like this, I guess.’ Shakespeare would never have known this. I sighed and looked around for support. Rishi was settled comfortably in the corner chair giving me a stern look.
“ Now, What?”
“Nothing.” He said quietly. “Your daughter needs you. Why don’t you understand?”
“ Rishi, please don’t start again. I am there with her. She doesn’t want me. She is angry with me.”
“C’mon, Tim, don’t you know why?
I left him there, sulking and returned to my room. There, he was again staring at me but I chose to ignore him. He whistled from behind and I smiled shyly. I couldn’t be angry with him. I slowly turned my face and looked at him. He grinned and I fell into his arms. Being in love is a beautiful feeling.
“Hey, have you taken your medicines?” He whispered softly. I shook my head, holding him tight. I didn’t want to leave him.
“It is time, Tims. Take them.” He urged. Reluctantly I lifted my head. He let go of me and I gulped down the pills he held in his hand. He made me lay on the bed and soon I was asleep.
I woke up feeling a little dizzy. Amit was sitting beside me, softly caressing my forehead. He gave me a vibrant smile and I felt better. “You slept well, darling. You are looking bright and beautiful.”
“But you are looking tired. Did you sleep? Did I again…..” I asked feeling ashamed.
“I am alright. This time you did better. You are recovering, my darling. I know it.” His reassurance was heartening. I felt energized. The doorbell rang.
It was Mira. She was jubilant. She finally got her dream job. She hugged me and I felt happy for her, though a little distracted. “ Wasn’t she unhappy with me?” I couldn’t remember the reason though. Amit excitedly proposed a dinner at one of my favourite restaurants. “It surely calls for celebration.” I too nodded in agreeably. Mira chuckled and went inside to get dressed for the ‘party.’
So I sneak out to the garden to see you
We keep quiet, ’cause we’re dead if they knew
So close your eyes
Escape this town for a little while, oh oh
‘Cause you were Romeo,
And my daddy said, “Stay away from Juliet”
But you were everything to me
I was beggin’ you, “Please don’t go,
May 23rd. My wedding day. It was a typical lavish affair. Our parents had accepted our relationship after a long spell of resistance. Intercaste love marriages were still not welcomed with open arms but we never gave up.
“I thought you would marry Amit.” Mom said.
I couldn’t get it. “Amit? Mom, Amit is only a friend. We don’t love each other.” She looked strangely at me and turned away.
Rishi looked the most impressive groom in his golden sherwani and maroon stole. As we stood facing each other, his naughty smile tugged at my heart. He winked and my face looked redder than my bridal lehenga. My love story was now complete. Romeo and Juliet had finally united and the tragedies were all defied.
Little did I know then…
We were packing to head to Manali for our honeymoon by the evening flight. My excitement knew no bounds. Finally, I would have him to myself. There were so many relatives around and we had barely spoken with each other. Once or twice, he tried holding my hand behind the curtains but I nervously pushed him away. He pretended to scowl at me but I just smiled. I had waited so long for this day. I did not mind anything.
After he had joined NDA, the next four years were the most difficult ones. Initially, his letters were formal but gradually, their tone began to change. We were writing more and more regularly and finally, when he came for his fifth term break, he confessed his love for me.
Romeo and Juliet were back in my life. Shakespearean epic wouldn’t leave me alone. I was floating in clouds with Rishi by my side. I never had eyes for anyone else. Nor did I pay attention. I was ecstatic, waiting to get married. It took much longer than I expected.
“ You must understand. I cannot get married till I complete my Siachen Glacier’s tenure. It is a hostile place. Let me come back. We are still very young.” He reasoned.
Though disappointed, I agreed to wait. I completed my post graduation in literature. Once he came back after three years tenure, there was a lot of family drama. In order to avoid pressure of marrying someone else, I enrolled myself for the doctorate. He moved on to his next posting and we waited till the parents on both the sides were finally convinced. I completed my degree in literature and surprised my own self. The girl who had no interest in studies was now a scholar. For me, it was no more than the path that I had to take to be with Rishi.
“Beta, have you packed everything? His mother asked lovingly. Keep some warm clothing.”
The landline telephone’s loud ring broke the harmony. To me, it sounded ominously shrill.
“Rishu, answer the phone beta.” His father shouted from somewhere inside the house. I was standing closer to the phone. So, I answered it. Later, I wished it were dead.
Once Rishi had left, that I recalled the events of the day. What if, we had gone in the morning, what if, there was no phone, what if, we hadn’t answered but all was futile. War had begun and the soldier has to be in the warzone. I cried bitterly, so bitterly that my nose was swollen and eyes bloodshot. I refused to come out of my room for the next two days. Finally, Rishi called up. He had reached the Kargil sector.
“Promise me, you will be strong. We will meet soon.” Both of us failed to keep our promises.
That was his last call. We came to know later that he fought bravely. They pulled out five bullets from his body.
He came back, my Romeo wrapped in tricolor. His face was still the same. He was sleeping peacefully as they laid him on the floor. I kept my head on his shoulder and went off to sleep.
When I woke up I was in my bed and Amit was sitting beside me. Rishi was gone and I lost my love story.
Chapter-4 Present Day
This love is difficult, but it’s real
Don’t be afraid, we’ll make it out of this mess
It’s a love story, baby, just say, “Yes
I got tired of waiting
Wonderin’ if you were ever comin’ around
My faith in you was fading
I keep waiting for you, but you never come
Is this in my head? I don’t know what to think.
“Hey, darling you look radiant today.” Amit looked at me lovingly. We were sitting in the restaurant, waiting for Mira to join us. She was bringing a few of her friends. I had worn a red saree and Amit tucked a red rose in my salt and pepper hair. Amit was just the same. Since school days, when we met the first time and I told him I loved the love stories.
Now, I remember that day distinctly and many others when Amit wouldn’t leave my side. How were they erased from my memory? Wasn’t it weird that I remembered everything about Rishi but nothing about Amit?
I had only a hazy memory of my marriage with Amit. My grief obliterated my sanity and left me numb. Mom said, Amit had assured them of his love and they supported him.
Last twenty years must have been a rollercoaster ride for him. I was most of the time wrapped up in my turmoil. I wouldn’t speak with anyone for days. My strenuous therapy sessions and strong medicines left me exhausted, listless, and passive. My hallucinations kept me caged quite often but Amit never lost faith. His conviction and strong belief in my recuperation had been the guiding force, filling me once again with the desire to live. ‘Amit and Mira deserved a better life. I must be Mira’s mother now.’
“Hey, what are you thinking, Tims?” Amit looked at me anxiously. His eyes had dark circles and his face looked tired.
“Amit, you paid a heavy price for loving me.” He looked a bit taken aback. He had never heard me speak about him. “Why do you say that?”
“ I know, I had never been a good wife or mother. You must be so tired, taking care of me when you knew I was never….” I couldn’t go on. I looked down.
“ in love with me? Amit completed the sentence. “Yes, I knew it but when I fell in love with you, I never expected that you would do the same. Being in love was so joyous for me. I never wanted anything else. Seeing you in pain, was the worst for me. When I proposed marriage, I knew, if anything could bring you back, it was love. When I brought Mira home as our adopted daughter, you never questioned my actions. You showered your love on her on your good days. I don’t regret it, Tims. I know, love will never fail us for I too, like you believe in love stories.”
I looked at him with tears in my eyes. Was this the love story I was looking for, all my life? Did I rediscover it right now, my moment of magical love? It seemed I had.
Rishi sat far from me tonight. He nodded and smiled. I squeezed Amit’s hand and looked at him. We smiled through our tears.
He knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring
And said, “Marry me, Juliet
You’ll never have to be alone
I love you and that’s all I really know
It’s a love story, baby, just say, “Yes”
And I said ‘Yes.’