This is a short story about finding love in unique circumstances ,when least expected .
|THE DAY WE MET
My father was a popular romantic hero in the late eighties. Girls and women (and sometimes men too) swooned whenever he stepped out or gave his dimpled smile (whether in reel or in real life).Other children’s dads were doctors, engineers, managers -you get the gist. A unique profession aside, my father stood out because while other fathers promoted maxims like ‘Problems are opportunities in work clothes’, ‘Success is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration’, my dad’s motto was (steel yourself for this …), ‘There is someone special out there for each one of us ‘.I guess, it was this heartfelt belief that got him his bread and butter .People adored him .How I wished my dad was a soldier on the front line. One who fought real wars not fake ones. One who had people’s respect not this blind adoration!
Marriage proposals from persistent women, fan mail and pictures of pretty (and not so pretty) girls in all shapes and sizes followed him, no matter that he was already hitched (to my mom). Along the way he realised that my mom was not the someone special made JUST FOR HIM .They parted ways amicably and he kept on the search for true love, culminating in a second and recently a third marriage .Hope wife number 3 is the one!
Vinay Kapoor, (my father) was not always a diehard romantic (and womanizer) because at some point in his life he had an arranged marriage with my mom and cared enough to be around during my early years. But fame can turn anyone’s head and gradually my mother was like a childhood toy, once cherished, precious and then forgotten.
Mom was made of more real-world and stronger stuff; she refused to become a drama queen. Histrionics was never her cup of tea anyway. That great lady held on to her dignity and got herself a job. She raised me to be practical and focused like her. I never saw a single film of his (other than one premiere I had attended years ago) .The memories of him taking me to play school, to the park, to the beach were gradually relegated to a corner of my mind, occasionally re-examined and then put away again. My mom never tried to poison my mind; she merely never spoke about him. I gradually realised that the word, ‘dad’ was a taboo topic in our household.
However the Indian psyche can never separate a child’s identity from his father’s. The school records reflected my real identity of course but whenever I happened to make a new acquaintance and was asked about my father I told them that my dad was a soldier who had lost his life on the front line. This always elicited a sympathetic response and of course no more curious ‘what does your father do ‘questions. When the tale eventually got back to mother (as all tall tales are known to do) all I got was a questioning look (to which I had no response). ’Please don’t belittle the brave men who fight for our country. Accept your reality and move on. I did!” That’s all she said to me on the matter .It was enough. No lecture, no sobbing (as I said earlier she was never one for displays of unnecessary emotion). After that I just ignored the ‘father’ questions or learnt to adroitly change the topic.
However the blessing (or curse) of genes is sometimes unavoidable. I turned out to be a picture perfect version (some say cuter) of my father who was still on the scene during my teenage years, playing a romantic (aging) hero, no less (his co-stars pretty close in age in to me). I studied in an all-boys school and the guys kept my feet firmly grounded; well aided by my mother who did not raise me to have any romantic notions about myself. When I looked in the mirror all I saw was a guy with a slightly crooked chin and really messed up wavy hair.
Dad indirectly made a dramatic re-entry into my life the year I started high school. The resemblance was too startling to be ignored. Kids nudged each other when I passed by and I was suddenly the recipient of frenzied female attention. While I did not go stir crazy and turn into a Casanova I went out on my fair share of first dates. Mostly first, because the girls never expected me to take them to the college canteen for a date. Also to my knowledge no romantic hero ever asked the lady to go dutch (my mom’s salary did not provide for luxuries). So by the time I reached the last year, my popularity had waned somewhat. I managed to sail through without any major romantic episodes (my dear mom must have sighed with relief!). I was more focussed on my career ahead and sharing my mother’s responsibilities.
Red all around .Kinda hurt my eyes. This day was a long time coming. It not always that an almighty institution of education would deem to club Valentine’s Day and Rose Day into one (amazingly no political protests) .But it had happened somehow (maybe they wanted both heavy duty student distracting events over in one go).Hence the sea of red; red balloons, red ribbons; of course not forgetting the voluminous bunches of roses, all red.
Valentine’s Day cum Rose Day had been entrusted to my able leadership and management skills. Before you jump to conclusions, let me explain why. While the day is all about romance If the roses you send to a girl in say Class A were unfortunately received by her friend in say Class E, can you imagine the chaos(not to mention potentially murderous situations which would arise )? Hence the need for organisation! I was the Student Body President ,with excellent and famed organisational skills ( I did wonder for a bit whether my father’s larger than life image was also at play here but soon put it out my mind as I reluctantly set out to do my duty ).
I was going to be dealing with a multitude of eager, desperate guys picking out roses and committing to deliver them to their one (or many ) true love/s across the college campus . I had a team of about eight volunteers (who didn’t see romance anywhere on their horizon and wanted to experience it second hand) at my disposal. Keeping in mind the volumes we were expecting I had divided the team year wise. The day started with a slew of orders booked and deliveries began. I kept a list of –deliveries pending, made and also refused (had to add that one later in case refunds were demanded) close at hand. We made the day of many; broke a few hearts. But the job called for a stoic demeanour on part of the delivering team (that’s what I had been told by a Professor).So stoic we were, irrespective of the situation.
As the schedule of classes picked up, my team and I had some breathing space. The rest of the team took off to the canteen but I continued manning the desk in the event of any newly fallen in love purchaser or late latiff popping up (I wanted to break all records on sales). That’s when she approached me. Her shoulder length curly hair and frank ,brown doe eyes were obviously attractive. But the 100 watt friendly smile she gave me totally blew me off course(I later realised that everyone from doorman to female friends all received the same smile ,thankfully I was the only one who fell like a ton of bricks ). I had dated prettier girls but not one with a smile this beautiful. It reminded me of sunshine and rainbows all at once (I had never been a sunshine and rainbows kind of guy). ‘I’d like to order a bouquet of 24 roses, please. ‘, her polite request had me further stupefied.
Imagine meeting the future love of your life (yes , a tad bit of overconfidence on my part )while she was buying roses for someone else! How tragic! Nevertheless I decided to be as professional as I could (considering the circumstances).The recipient’s name took me by surprise though! No it wasn’t me (I wished it was) but Siddharth, the mathematics wizard and topper in my year; always the first to answer in class, to get the perfect score in tests. But the guy had bulgy owlish eyes, was not too tall and did not appear to have a single friend (how on earth did he manage a girlfriend/admirer?) .His hand eye co-ordination was nothing to write home about and him crashing into doors, tripping on his own feet, falling down stairs were relatively daily occurrences in his life (I do admit that me and the other guys had aided and abetted in a few of these accidents).I guess I had been frozen into inaction for a few seconds (while the Siddharth analysis and its implications ran through my mind) because she politely cleared her throat and brought me back from my musings with a bang.
‘Do you want to say, who they are from?’ I nobly prompted, partly from a need to be organised, a desire to hear her musical voice again and above all very much hoping to learn her name.
‘They are from me!’ she quipped in return, with an amused smile (pretending not to comprehend my real purpose).
‘Do you want to send a card with YOUR NAME?’ I shamelessly persisted.
She appeared to think about it, shrugged her shoulders, ‘Not really!’ and that was that? All my plans gone flat.
I made a last ditch attempt,’ You’re sure you got the name and year of the recipient right?’
‘Why?’ the tone no longer warm (in fact glacial) and the smile absent.
All my expert comments on Siddharth’s failings died a silent death ,’Just checking so that the delivery happens alright ‘, was my escapist response .
‘Oh! ’She seemed to buy it and in fact looked apologetic for her earlier coldness (well deserved on my part though)
The tedium of being in charge of rose deliveries dissipated and I now decided to use my position to gain some knowledge. Otherwise how was I going to meet my future love again (yeah, had already decided).My delivery team, substantially dwindled, in fact down to two members from the multitude of the earlier eight made an appearance.
‘This delivery is mine. We are almost done for day. So just stick around for an hour longer in case something comes up ’,I muttered now focused on salvaging my own potential love story.
Leaving them suitably impressed(with my hands on attitude) and unaware of my real purpose (not that I was too sure what answers I was looking for ) ,I hurried off to assuage my curiosity. Entered my own class; almost all the girls and a few lucky guys had their desks full of roses as they tried to concentrate of the vagaries of supply and demand that the economics professor droned on about. The lot of them smiled like Cheshire cats wondering who this humongous bunch of roses was for. When I called out Siddharth’s name, everyone was astounded. The recipient himself looked shell shocked to receive twenty four roses; I don’t think he was expecting even one.
I too dived deep .In response to his stammered thanks, ‘from an anonymous admirer, she did not give her name, do you know who it is?’ I quipped hoping to clear the air of mystery. Siddharth however looked so blank that I realised, I probably knew more than him.
As he returned to his seat in a daze the girls began to look at him with renewed interest. Was there something that they had missed! Many of them smiled at him. I reckoned that this was the first time he had probably received any sort of positive peer attention.
FRIENDSHIP ,SUNSHINE AND RAINBOWS
I too befriended Siddharth but more out of this great and self-serving desire to meet his girlfriend once again. How I would disguise my feelings when we met? Since Siddharth was actually not a friend, I would not be violating a key code by stealing his girl, right?
That theory soon went down the drain .Once you got to know Sid, he was not a bad guy and I gradually began to view him differently. My friendship and the bouquet made quite an impact and Sid was soon on his way to having some friends (no, he did not become Mr Popular overnight). I gradually realised that I did not have the gumption to break Siddarth’s heart, so what if my love story died even before it began.
My new friend never seemed to have time for his girlfriend or admirer, though! I hung out with him at the library, in the corridors, in the canteen (which he visited only once a day). Almost three weeks had gone by and I began to alternate between hope and despair, ‘Maybe he gave her the cold shoulder’ or ‘would I never see her again? ‘, I had literally combed every corner of campus with no success. She seemed to have disappeared but her memory remained fresh in my mind.
The year flew by. Exams were done .Sid had successfully applied to a university abroad and hence there was a farewell organised at his home.
It was her, finally! I stood speechless when she opened the door.
‘Hi! Your Sid’s friend Nikhil, right? The rose guy! He talks about you all the time. I’m his sister, Anjali‘, she said, looking at me with a mixture of pity and laughter (probably convinced I was a bit slow, since I seemed to freeze every time we met).
I knew that he had a kid sister in the first year .But I had expected a Sid duplicate of some sort, not my angel. How many days I had searched high and low in vain and she was right here.
‘Nice to see you again’, she shyly added, acknowledging our first meeting. ‘Sometimes brothers too need a helping hand .Specially someone as shy and diffident as Sid. Teenagers can be quite cruel and I wanted help improve my brother’s social standing from the sub-zero level it stood at .Hence the anonymous flowers.’ , ‘ Thank you for being a good friend to him ‘,she added.
All hope was not lost .Sunshine and Rainbows –I could see them again, standing right there at Siddharth’s door.....
Eight years later- when Anjali and I got married, I finally saw my mom shed tears (even if they were out of happiness).Siddharth was there too of course, somehow having transformed into a quite a popular bloke. My father was invited but he was too busy serenading someone off or one screen, not sure! The venue was overridden with – yes, red roses!