It is that time of the year again when nature’s magic cast spells galore- frost burned grass magically turns emerald green, forest flame up with the rhododendrons as if offering the world rubies for all and sapphire blue skies. Oh! It was truly a time when one can dream impossible dreams and hope against hope.
Gayatri looks out of her window and a shiver of delight suddenly shook her. “What was that?’ she said not realising she had spoken loud enough for her niece, Hritika, sitting on her bedroom couch to hear her. She too is shaken by the intensity of her aunt’s exclamation. She looks questioningly but her aunt seems to have gone to a world of her own. But she is wrong. With a swift yet graceful move, Gayatri leaves the room- she goes to the what the family calls the ‘treasure room’. She looks around and then she finds it- the nondescript potli-like bag she had made as part of her Embroidery Project. Gingerly with fluttering fingers she pulls the strings and –yes it is still there.
Nestling in its silken bed it lay; a delicate bone china cup- a soft yellow hued shade. Holding it lovingly in her now trembling hands she shivers again.” What was that?’ she again says but this time in a whisper in case anything louder could shatter the delicate treasure and her.
………… ten, no fifteen years moves back as if someone has waved a magic wand. Gayatri was sitting on the porch steps of their bungalow; a heritage one at that and the pride of her grandmother. But Gayatri had her eyes turned towards the tree lined driveway as if willing the ‘carriage’ to come down from anywhere. But her eyes burned holes all along the well paved road. With a sigh that seemed to be echoed by the magnolia tree as a white pearl petal fell down. She picked it up and desolately went in.
‘What could have kept Saainsh?’ she asked herself.’So unlike the watch watching freak’, she added. The words echoed throughout the evening and when dusk had well and truly turned to a black night she could not hold on to her patience. Taking her shrug, as it was still chilly in the evenings in spite of spring truly in, she went out and taking the lane leading to the Roys cottage. As she raised her hand to pull the rope of the bell, the door opened and she almost fell in.
‘Steady’ cautioned Sheila with a surprised look. ‘What ever got into Gayatri? She’s always so graceful in her movement, checking every step as if on a perpetual ballet practice!” Before Gayatri could bring the question on her lips, Sheila, as if reading her mind, said, “If you are looking for our mutual hero he is not in. He suddenly took off for Lucknow. He seemed to have something in his mind that our Ranikhet stores do not have!”
“Oh!’ was all Gayatri could say and without any further word of leave taking or greeting, she walked out and went back to her home, this time with feet of lead.
“ Buttercup yellow?” Saainsh almost spat the words and if the delicate simply beautiful flowers had been scattered around, they would all have shed their blooms and shrunk into the grassy beds. ”From which section of your brainy head did you come up with this colour, if one can call it that!”
They were sitting on the seat in the sprawling garden sweeping down to road leading to the driveway. It had been the designated seat to her brothers’ girlfriends and her sister’s friends-girls or boys. The seat was strategically placed in full vantage view from any room in the house .for those times when elders wanted to have their eyes on every going ons ! Saainsh was not yet a boyfriend in the real sense of the word but she felt a sense of belonging the very moment she met him at the Diwali celebrations in their town’s Community Club.
“It does not require brains but eyes!” Gayatri retorted smarting at the jibe about her brain. True she had always topped examinations but it had nothing with the organ but with her genes and that too from both sides and from many generations.
“Sweetheart,what I can do when my eyes see only you?” Saainsh read the sign correctly- so well he knew her and that too in just, what, twoyears. No girl had got under his skin as this pocket sized beauty standing looking at him with scan respect. And in his line of work, he had photographed flawless pieces of sculptured marbles that went by the name of models.
“Pooh, just like a man to think that flattery will get him out of sticky situations!” was her answer and with a turn on her dainty up back into the house.
A door shuts with a bang somewhere and it broke her reverie. She puts the cup back into its silken bed, pulls the draw strings shut as if to shut the memories too.
“There you are!” Rits says bursting into the room. “Aunty, mummy is going into the town for Holi purchases and wants to know if you supervise the works in the garden. What riot of colours one will get if Gauri is allowed to do the task! And no, I do not need anything”
Something was stopping her from leaving the place- “what’s the matter with me today?” Gayatri asks herself and again pulls herself up. “Old age catching up” she could hear her best friend, Beena say. Old age? Seriously? She’s still on the right side of the forties and no way are men being asked to pause!!!!! She chuckled to herself on this turn of the “m” word!
She walks back to ‘her corner’ and rummages through the bits and pieces that had been woven into her life. She opens the thick envelope where she pushed in notes and letters friends. She takes out a note, yellowed with age and opens it. As it did those ages ago, a stab of pain went through her. “Good Bye dear”. Blunt and with no frills. So typical of Saainsh! She had her pride and did not ask anyone at his house the whys and what’s! She left it at that and moved on. But life played a cruel trick- within six months of what she termed as the Arzoo sequel, her parents became the late, Mr and Mrs Khanna. A drunken driver mowed her parents quaint Fiat Premier and the papers bluntlyput “died on the spot”!!!!
Being the youngest in the family is sheer indulgence when doting parents are around. Gayatri found out all too soon as no sooner had her parents’ ashes were immersed in the cool waters of Mother Ganga, she became a burning topic. She had expected Saainsh to come from wherever he had disappeared but a common condolence card signed by uncle Roy there was no other word.How she needed him during those days she only could say.
And just when the mandatory mourning period ended she was married off. Nothing seemed to get into her; she was numbed by the events of the past couple of years. Vijesh Malhotra, only son of a corporate house with offices at many cities abroad was considered the catch of the season. The icing on the cake was that he had been given charge of the European side of the business. She was to be lady of the manor in homes spread over cities in that continent.
“Gayatri” She heard her name being called as if from far. She wondered if now her ears are playing tricks. Shaking her head she decides to leave the room and get down to the down to earth task. “GAYATRI!”There is no mistaking the voice! “Why is Sheila here and what could be the urgency for her to bellow her name almost shattering the windowpanes?” She rushes out and almost has a head to head collision with the now bulldozer sixed Sheila.
“Change into something gay and bright pronto! No questions, no replies, just do!” Sheila pulls her and getting into her room begins to throws out all her sad rags out of her closets. With a bewildered look, Sheila turns to Gayatri and in a flash, takes her hand and pulls her down the corridor and out of the house. Without pausing for a moment, she pulls Gayatri down the driveway, down the lane leading to the Roy’s cottage and throwing the door open drags her to Aunty Roy’s room. Gayatri, for once is lost for words and she looks on as Sheila now starts throwing out Aunty’s collection of silks. She picks a lemon shaded Banarasi and with the sae urgency she retraces her steps, dragging Gayatri. In Gayatri’s room, she looks for a matching or contrasting blouse and with no ado says, “Get dressed and fast” Like a zombie, and Gayatri goes to her built-in closet and does just that- dress. She comes out and follows Sheila who is now back to her corridor dash and throwing open the door of her car, pulls Gayatri in. Gayatri suddenly finds her voice. “Stop!”Sheila looks at her and suddenly realises how bizarre her actions must have been. Turning to her, Sheila says,” I’m sorry but drastic situations demands drastic action. I’m just following orders from my brother who turns up a few days back on my doorstep. Beyond the fact that I’m to get you ‘properly’ attired’ and take you to a certain place, Iknow nothing”
Gayatri feels the world take a spin and as she is whirling through empty spaces, Alice like, one word ringing in her head-Saainsh. She closes her eyes as if to shut the world out and go into a world of crazy impossibilities. She could feel the fast spin of the car wheels and wills it to also fly. And fly it must have as it suddenly stops-destination reached. She opens her eyes and looks up into the twinkling eyes she thought she would never see.
‘Saainsh?” she whispers.
“Yes, in flesh and blood. All for later. Come we have to get this done, finally!”
Yes pointing to the grey building that spells, “court”. And then a whirlwind of activities follow which she went through without a whimper of a protest, her silence an acceptance of the inevitable realisation of a waking dream wish. She does not even say a single word when Saainsh puts her into the car and tells Sheila to take her home adding that he will see her on Holi. Saainsh looks at her quizzically wondering at the docile acceptance of his weird order to his sister. The thought that is now whirling in her head is, “Saainsh is back. I’m his wife, finally”
The day bursts in a riot of colours, literally- Divya, her sister in law has gone way beyond the extra mile to place sheets of orange, greens, blues, reds and, what is that, buttercup yellow? Shrubs all wore wispy chiffon ribbons of that shade. Going into the ‘treasure room’, Gayatri takes out the treasured ‘potli’.She holds it against her heart and she would almost hear it telling her to hurry and not tarry. Smiling to herself, she goes back to her room.
Wearing her favourite lemony coloured salwar suit, she walks out and takes her seat on the seat ,her pulse racing and her heart fluttering like a caged bird anticipating release.
A car comes up the driveway and an unusually suited Saainsh jauntily steps out, but instead of coming towards her, he takes the side lane leading to the family outhouse a retreat for anyone in search of solitude. Perplexed she turns towards the house to see her brother Rohit, Divya, Rits, Sheila and her husband Ajay standing on the porch steps.
Divya comes to her and giving her a hug, whispers,” Congratulations. Go on and start the life you always wished for.” She looks up to the others and sees them beaming joyfully at her and her brother put up his hands, palms facing downwards in a gesture of blessing.
“Ohmy God! They were all in it! No wonder all seem to move without a hitch” “Hitch? Oh my God” She turns abruptly and not wanting to waste any more precious moments, she fly towards the outhouse. As she throws the door open, a cascade of buttercup yellow petals rain on her.
“Buttercups for you my love. The real ones, nothing but the real for you!” Saainsh the throws a swathe of chiffon of the same hue and twirling it around her, pulls her towards him, holding her so tight that she could hear air bubbles bursting between them.
Gathering her scattered about her, Gayatri asks the question that had been tormenting her, “Why?”
Saainsh guides her towards the easy armchair, gently putting her cosily on her lap, he explains.
Coming back from Lucknow, after getting the cup, he had intended to fill with the wild yellow daisies that grew in abundance in the fields and give it to her. He had also decided to bare his soul and face whatever be the consequences. He met his father as he entered the house.
Saainsh rubs his eyes as if willing to blot out what followed. “My father took me to the study and there he dropped the bombshell that blew my life and plans into smithereens!He said that he is aware of my feelings but no matter how broadminded he is, he drew a line on when it came to marriage outside the community. He added that a family, proposed by his elder brother, was coming over that evening. He made it clear that he had committed himself to the alliance and that I was to honour the same”
“So you took tail and flew off!”
Saainsh added that he saw no way out and after scribbling the terse goodbye note, he handed the same with the packet containing the cup to his sister to give her.
‘I went to Delhi and fortunately a friend was looking for a photographer for an assignment in Eastern Europe for a year hoping to return after that. Then your parents’ tragedy happened and soon your marriage put up a sign boldly, “Marriage doors closed for me but it was open season for my father. I came for Sheila’s nuptials and then took off again for another foreign stint”
“But…” Gayatri just got that word out when Saainsh cuts in.
“ I never gave on you. Somewhere within me I had this feeling that you would be back in my life. So I stayed away long enough to ensure that I was truly out of reckoning or else…….”. His face puckers in a rueful expression so unlike the Saainsh of yore.” So that’s taken care of. Now Mrs. Roy, shall we get things going?”
“No” Gayatri says and her tone stops Saainsh short and he looks at her mystified. “I have something to confess”
Saainsh goes cold and wonders, “What now?”
Gayatri continues. “I was married but am still a bride. Vijesh left immediately after reaching his home. He handed me an open air ticket to London. I was told to follow him there whenever I was ready to travel. I took my time and followed a week later. There Vijesh told me that he had married against his wish as he had already made a commitment to a girl he met at Amsterdam- a Dutch to boot! To cut a story short, I gave my bit of having given my heart away and then the three of us hatched a plot. I went about with my ‘lady of the manor’ act all over Europe and Vijesh and Bridget lived their lives discreetly. After a year, I came home and to ‘save’ to Vijesh’s family honour I ‘allowed’ Vijesh to file for divorce on incompatible grounds and before long I was back to my old familiar life.”
Saainsh has the most comical look- never in his wildest imaginations would he have conjured up such a scenario.
“What did Rohit have say to all this?” He asks.
“Oh bhaiya was so angry that he was totally stumped. And seeing I was not any the worse for wear he relented. Of course bhabhi had a lot to do with it. I had told her about the whole thing right from the beginning. She had even come to visit me at many places and we had a ball” she ends laughingly.
Saainsh gets up and going to the dresser brought out a small box. Opening it he took out a sapphire studded ring and with a reverence that is almost comical, he puts it on her engagement finger. Gayatri too picks up the potli that had slipped from her hand and taking out the delicate cup, places it on the bedside table to weave its magic always.
“Buttercup yellow my favourite colour?’ Nah!! It’sfawn, the colour of the arm around me, holding me ever so gently tight.” Gayatri feels shivers of joy shooting through her.
“What was that?” Saainsh says looking down at her, surprised.
Gayatri smiles contentedly, snuggles deeper and feels she has come home after a long tiring journey.
True love is magical. If you have it, nurture it. It weaves magic at the most unexpected times.
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She is the retired principal of a higher secondary school in Shillong, Meghalaya.