a "romantic" short story i wrote for a contest in office.
a lame albeit sincere attempt at "ROMANCE" :D:D
Lakshmi got up and one hand of hers mechanically reached out and turned off the alarm lest it rang and disturbed Gopal who was sleeping peacefully. Even without looking, even before it rang she knew what time it was. 5 o clock. Every night when she set the alarm Gopal would joke saying “your body’s alarm is more reliable than Orpat. Why waste time setting an alarm?”
She got out of bed, brushed her teeth and went about her ablutions in a mechanical manner. Getting the milk, cutting open the packet, emptying it into a vessel, adding a little water to drain the packet of its last drops of milk, setting the vessel to boil, boiling the water to make the coffee decoction. After making herself a cup of hot frothy filter coffee, she retreated to the swing in the balcony to watch the break of dawn as the dark blue of the night gave way to the cerulean sky of the dawn and a gentle breeze tickled her senses. Somehow the dark blue of the sky always made her think of him. His eyes. Those deep dark azure eyes of his eyes which spoke volumes though he was a man of very few words.
Lakshmi closed her eyes and it all came back to her like it had happened yesterday. She was 18 and it was the Navratri season. Lakshmi and her sister Vijaya had gone to Sarasu maami’s house for golu. She was the best singer in the neighbourhood. “MS kurral. Truly gifted you are Lakshmi” Ranga mama, Sarasu maami’s husband would say with a nod of his head. That day she sat down to render a Bhajan in the kapi raagam. She always closed her eyes while singing. Her concentration wouldn’t divert that away. That day as soon as she finished singing and was met with thunderous applause, she opened her eyes and he stood before her and for the first time her innocent eyes met his cynical ones. There he was standing with a smirk on his face with a book in his hand and his hands crossed across his chest while everyone else in the room used their hands to applaud her song.
“Nara, did u hear that?” Sarasu maami asked him. “How well she sings doesn’t she.”
He smirked some more and made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a cough and retreated into his room
Oh!! How she hated him.
Narayan was a black sheep of their Agraharam. “Iconoclast. Too much of education and spending time in the public library has made him like this. Disgrace to Sarasu and Ranga, such nice god fearing people” appa would hiss when he spoke of him. “Ayyo naastheekama (atheist)?? Shiva Shiva” her mother would chant. He had radical ideas and “is way ahead of his times” Sethu anna would say. None of this made any sense to Lakshmi. All she knew was that she hated him because he refuted religious customs, thought too much of himself and was a pompous ass who loved to smirk at her.
And then the rains came. She would never forget that day. The first time he touched her. It was pouring cats and dogs and she had missed her last bus home from college and as luck would have it, she had forgotten her umbrella too and was walking towards the shade of the bus stand to wait there till the rains abated. It was pouring so hard it was impossible to see anything in front of her or to see the road or make out if she was walking on the pavement or on the road. Suddenly she felt a hand on her arm and someone pulled her to safety as a car whizzed past her. “Are you crazy?” she heard a voice. She turned around and found herself staring into those eyes again. “Th…Thanks. I..I..didnt hear the car. It was raining and…”. “Never mind” he hushed her. “Here take my umbrella and I will walk you home”. He was still holding her arm. She pulled it away determinedly and said “No, Thanks. I will wait at the bus stand and take the next bus home”. There. There it was. That irritating smirk again. “Ok. I will wait with you” he said. She was extremely glad he said that but said “Suit yourself. It isn’t my bus stand for me to prevent you from waiting there”.
“So? College eh?” he said after an uncomfortable silence of 10 minutes
“No, I enjoy walking in the rains at 6 in the evening, getting drenched and getting hit by cars frequently” she said sarcastically even as her heart beat like 100 drummers were working overtime. She moved away afraid that he might hear it
He smirked again and she wanted to scream.
“ok. I am sorry I spoilt your hobby of getting hit by cars by saving you. Won’t happen again” he said
She smiled and looked up at him and time froze. She didn’t remember how long they kept looking at each other. He later told her that, that was when he had fallen in love with her. A car sped by and splashed water on them and screeched to a halt. “Nara, Lakshmi what are you doing here? Get in the car” Ranga mama’s voice came through the sheets of rain. Ranga mama dropped her home and that night she for the first time she thought kindly of him.
The bus stand became their constant meeting place. Maybe it was co-incidence, maybe it was providence or maybe it was how Narayan planned things but everyday when she stood in the bus stand he would leave the public library opposite the bus stand and walk up to her. They spoke about everything under the sun. Slowly she started looking forward to their daily meetings. She realized that contrary to what appa said he wasn’t an iconoclast but was just agnostic and liked to question things and just had un conventional ideas on many things, things about which she had been taught to think in a particular conventional way . He was like no one else she had met. He was eloquent, extremely well read, kind, sensitive, had an amazing sense of humor and she enjoyed talking to him. What she felt for him she had never felt for anyone. He completely changed the way she looked at life and the way she thought. He gave her life a totally new perspective. The first books she ever read were the ones which he loaned her, books which when she saw in the market reminded her of him. She read and re read those books and marveled at how beautifully they had been written. She was only existing till she met him. After he came into her life she started living.
After an year when she had finished her B.sc they started “maapilai hunting” at home for Lakshmi and she realized that she didn’t want to be with anyone else except Narayan. That evening when they met at the bus stand, their last time ever, she told him they were looking out for a groom. She still remembered how he reacted. They were sitting side by side and when she told her he gave her one long serious look, those azure eyes boring into her and said “Marry me”. That was that. They decided to tell their parents
That evening she confronted amma and appa and told them she loved Narayan. Appa blew his top.
“what??? That iconoclast? See savithri. Look at what your daughter has done. I told u not to educate her. You educate women and this is what they do. They think if they can read the paper, they can rule the world. Keep them at home and marry them off at 18. Look at what she has done. I cant show my face anywhere now”
“Appa, please. He is really nice. And you know Ranga mama and sarasu maami so well” she pleaded
“so?? Do u have any idea what he does for a living. How he will take care of you?”
She was stumped. She had known him for an year and not once had she asked him what he did for a living
“See. You don’t have an answer. You want to marry a vagabond, who doesn’t believe in God, who doesn’t have a job. Shiva shiva. We have found a nice boy for you from Kumbakonam called Gopal. He works for a reputed bank in Madras…”
And that was the end of it. She shouted, she screamed, she pleaded, she threatened to kill herself but Appa wouldn’t budge. She never saw Narayan again. He tried writing to her and the letter was intercepted by Appa and he tore it without reading. She wasn’t allowed to go out of the house. She hoped Ranga mama and Sarasu maami would come and talk but nothing happened. Gopal’s parents came approved and appraised her, a date was fixed and she was married
That was 30 years back. A lone tear escaped her eye and fell into her cup of coffee, gone cold now. Gopal was a good man. He was a decent husband, a good father, a very good son, brother and son in law. She had no complaints. Regrets? Yes. She had those. Her 26 year old daughter had visited last month from the US with her American husband with whom she had “lived in” for an year before deciding to get married. Gopal and Lakshmi hadn’t said anything or rather weren’t able to say anything. In their heart of hearts they were glad she had married someone of the opposite gender. They had a Brahmin style wedding and an American style wedding. When she looked at Priya, her daughter, she wished she had been born at a different time. At a time when falling in love wasn’t taboo, when a job in a reputed bank wasn’t the only thing parents looked at. If only, if only…..
She never heard from Narayan after that. After marriage she had moved to Madras and her parents made sure she never visited Trichy, making it a point to visit her when she felt home sick. Conversation was always careful never steering towards Ranga mama’s family. Once she had discreetly asked amma and she had promptly gone and told appa. That was the end of it. Narayan was like a chapter of her life which had existed only in her imagination. No record of him existed anywhere. She didn’t even have a photograph, a letter. Nothing. Just memories of a man who had taught her to think and now existed only in her thoughts.
“lakshmi” gopal’s voice echoed. She quickly wiped her tears away and responded to his call.
The sky was orange now, the sun high up, the beautiful dark azure shade completely gone.