A book always preceded her! First the book entered, then the rest of her buried in it. It was the last year in school, Class XII. Her parents wouldn’t stop harassing her to study and the teachers at school were no less. But she wanted to swim, play badminton, read all the Alistair McLean, Wilbur Smith and Mills & Boon too. Didn’t want to miss out any Jam session or party either.
Her smile adorned her unpretentious face which had a healthy glow radiating her inner beauty. Quite clearly, she drew attention wherever she went, some wanted some unwarranted! Between school, friends, crushes, and homework, playing at the club, movies and reading she seemed to be growing up at breakneck speed.
At the Jam session in the club, the foot-tapping music could be heard a mile away. It was the time of live bands. The Purple Flower was mesmerizing everyone, belting out favourites from Abba, Boney M, Eagles, Doors, and the rest. Young boys and girls were dressed in their best, dancing away without a care in the world. The lithe bodies covered with perspiration; the pulsating energy palpable yet laughter pervaded every corner. That is when he spotted her. Surrounded by her friends, her long silky hair tossed back, laughter bubbling, eyes twinkling, a radiant picture to behold!
Mustering up his courage he walked up to her and said, ‘Hi! I am Shyam. May I have the next dance with you?’ For a moment she seemed puzzled, looked at him from top to bottom, making a decision she said, ‘Sure!’
He stamped, waved, gyrated as did she and they laughed as they stamped each other’s toes, inadvertently twirling and swaying. ‘Thanks! I enjoyed that immensely. Can I get you something to drink?’
Guzzling a chilled Thums Up with a warm conversation, Shruti soon realised her companion was a young Army officer recently transferred to the city. He was charming and made her laugh. Little did she know what a devastating effect she was having on him.
They went back to the dance floor and effortlessly danced away the night. Her friends ensured there were no quiet moments, jokes, jibes, and jest made the clock whirl along with them.
The next evening much to Shruti’s surprise, Captain Shyam Sharma turned up with a bouquet of flowers to call on her parents. After the first 15 minutes of formal talk the drawing room reverberated with jolly laughter as Shruti, and her sister Kruti were regaled with anecdotes by the dashing young officer. Major and Mrs. Gupta quite liked the young man themselves and discreetly enquired about his whereabouts.
Thereon began a series of coincidences, when Shyam seemed to turn up to play badminton or go for a swim when Shruti did. Being no fool she asked him bluntly, ‘Hey why do you keep turning up wherever I go?’
Taken by surprise at this outright honest question, Captain Confident, stuttered a little but soon gathered his wits and said, ‘Coincidence! Even I have been wondering why you turn up wherever I go?’ The sudden turning of tables was taken as deceit and the angry girl banged her foot, flashing fire in her limpid dark eyes and warned him, ‘Don’t you dare follow me!’
Poor guy he just melted in love! Driven head over heels, he couldn’t decide what to do. Taking a friend into confidence, he sought some advice. The friend a full year older and technically senior advised him to forget her and look at someone else. He even set him up for a date. But love can’t be bridled nor can switching the object of love make the heart’s desire diminish for one and burn bright for another.
There was a subtle change coming over Shruti. No one noticed when it happened. Just like the waxing and waning of the moon continues gradually each night till it mesmerizes the world with its ethereal golden glow on a full moon night, bathing the entire world in a gleaming luminescence, changing the very onlooker, plunging deep into the most stoic heart, and softening every breath!
Shruti had secured admission in college to study Literature! Her super performance in the school leaving exams had guaranteed her admission into any college of her choice. But she chose the one where her dear friend was given one. Nothing could top friendship. The euphoria of college, much glamourised by the silly concept promoted by Bollywood movies, was soon proven false.
The highlight was to bunk college and go watch movies. The whole group of chattering giggling girls. Then go home and brag to the family. Everyone laughed over it and the movie would be dissected like the worst critic could dream of.
Our Romeo in the meanwhile had become listless, tormented by the consuming flames of love burning endlessly within and the mountain of tasks to be completed every day, as part of his duty, physically leaving no free time to go and meet his raison-d’etre.
Being in the same city, having common interests and having Destiny planning a different scene can work out favourably at times.
One sultry, summer evening it so happened that Shruti was wallowing in the pool with her friends, so many had moved on that they were just a handful now. Jumping in and out, they started playing with the younger kids, creating a boisterous fountain of pure joy, laughter ringing out, as the cool evening breeze worked its magic.
Shyam, had come to unwind after a particularly hard day and couldn’t believe his luck. The object of his worship seemed only too ethereal and prettier than he could remember. He suddenly found his spirits lifted and also caught himself humming, “Mai hoon jhoom jhoom jhoom Jhumroo….” Which made him laugh at the silliness of the whole affair.
As the sun set in the horizon painting the sky in colours of love; pink, yellow, mauve and crimson… the Moon prepared to set the world ablaze with its brilliance. The beauty of the moment created magic, as Shyam greeted Shruti. ‘Hi! It’s been so long since I saw you.’ Keeping hope, love, and desperation steadily out of his voice, he smiled straight from his heart as he plonked himself next to her. ‘Hi! So good to see you,’ she blurted, as she turned to greet him, and her heart somersaulted! Was he so handsome as he looked right now? Oh, how much she had missed him, his jokes, his melodious laughter and most importantly, his ability to make her laugh.
As the Moon rose in her glory, she blew some magical moonlight and blessed the two youngsters, who seemed to be the two halves of a loving heart! They carried on chatting for a long time till it was time to leave. Shyam offered to drop her home.
That bike ride, snuggling close to each other, as their fragrances intermingled, and every cell in her body felt dizzy with delight, it was unique and thrilling. She had never ever felt like this before, and she had, had her fair share of crushes. Ah Moon! Cheeky, aren’t you? Peeping down at us like this…Oh how my cheeks burn! Am I blushing? Is this Love? The breeze teased her long flowing tresses and her soft cotton top reached out to caress the breeze. And Shyam??? He was humming ‘Main hoon jhoom jhoom jhoom Jhumroo….’ And laughing at the innocuous choice!
That was the trailer for what followed…. Dates for coffee, movies, Jam sessions and parties, yet sometimes it was a simple chat session, heart to heart. The inevitable followed. Major and Mrs Gupta happily gave their blessings as did Shyam’s parents and the young lovers were united for seven lives in a simple ceremony. Each vow was recited from the heart as the Panditji made everyone dance to his tunes… er mantras.
They were young and madly in love. They saved every penny and planned a trip to Goa. They booked themselves into the most affordable room. From dawn to dusk, they were happy roaming around the beaches, hand in hand, drinking coconut water and eating seafood cooked fresh in some shack. Just being by the brilliant blue Arabian Sea on the white beaches, frolicking in and out of the waves was rewarding enough. The last night they decided to celebrate. They walked down to their favourite shack on the beach, dressed in their best, a pair of jeans and clean cotton shirts. They picked out the fish they wanted to be grilled. By the soft light of the candle, under a star-studded sky, they proclaimed their love once more. ‘I love you!’ ‘I love you more!’ and as they burst into peals of laughter he said, ‘Let’s have wine tonight.’
The waiter brought them the menu card, and he chose,’ Red wine’. The waiter too was a diehard romantic. He brought the bottle with much fanfare and opened it in style. They clinked their glasses and sipped. She waited for the bubbles of joy to hit her, but there was nothing! He too waited to be enraptured…. And kept waiting. In the long moment pregnant with silence, he said ‘Hmmm not bad!’ And then she started laughing, looking at the horrible expression on his face. She laughed and laughed, and he did too till they had tears running down their cheeks.
‘Waste of money!’ she declared.
The brilliant Alaskan sunset lingered on late into the night as the ship sailed gently on calm waters.
As Shruti gazed at the horizon, her eyes sparkled, like the Dom Perignon she was sipping. Shyam couldn’t stop gazing at her, the love of his life for half a century now. Sure, they had their differences, their spats, and fights, but they couldn’t do without each other at the end of the day.
Shruti reminisced over their journey of 50 years. She remembered the first time they became intimate, it was more a symphony orchestrated by their raging hormones, when they were quite clueless and let Nature take its course. They both felt a little let down, as their experience was so much like their first tryst with wine…. Not bad. But not good either!
Here after five decades, they were skilled and ardent lovers, ‘Like Champagne!’ she said. ‘What Dear?’ he asked. ‘Oh nothing! Just rejoicing at our journey. We have come a long way!’ ‘That’s true!’ ‘In fact, we have matured like wine, become better with age, in everything!’ she said with mischief gurgling in her throat. ‘Ah! Is it a compliment to my skills of keeping you happy?’ he carried on.
‘Thanks, Darling, for this lovely Golden anniversary!’ she said. ‘ I feel blessed to have you by my side,’ he declared. As they continued to look into each other’s eyes, they noticed something that distracted them. Turning to get a better view, they saw it was the fluke of a whale. Their attention was on it completely now. Shyam turned to pick up a pair of binoculars and whistled, ‘Oh my God! It is a humpback whale! Look!’ he said as he passed on the binoculars. As excited as ever Shruti scanned the horizon and squealed with delight. ‘There are quite a few, not just one!’ ‘I can see a calf too!’ ‘Oh!’ ‘Ah!’ ‘Oooh!’ and the cabin was flooded with sounds of great joy, surprise, excitement, and childlike pleasure. Watching the fins and flukes of the humpback whales as they lazily swam, closer and closer, diving and leaping, unperturbed by humans encroaching their waters. It was the reward of a lifetime. How long the show went on they neither knew nor cared for as they were transported in time to their days of riding a bike, snuggled close, their fragrances intimately mingling to become one.
The Moon that night shone silver on the world, touching everything with its magic, transforming, illuminating. Somewhere, someone was singing, ‘Main hoon jhoom, jhoom, jhoom, Jhumroo…’. The cabin resonated with their song!
‘From wine to champagne my love!’ and they both giggled like the kids on a Goan beach 50 years ago, sipping from each other’s glass!
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