Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bhubaneswar diaries - A cute story about love!


   Chapter - 1 
   The re-union 


I checked my watch, it was 5 pm. As per the program, the re-union party was starting at 7 pm, which as per Indian standard time will never start before 8:30 pm. 
After 15 years of completing school, I was feeling a bit strange. So many memories were associated with that place. I studied there from 1st standard till 12th standard and I can vouch that I had the best time of my life inside those boundaries with countless adventures and misadventures. 
It was my first re-union. I wondered whether people would even recognize me and whether I would recognize them.

At around 8:45 pm I reached the venue. Kendriya Vidyalaya No.1, Bhubaneshwar or Central school. I was already getting frantic calls from Bobby and Manu. As soon as I entered the hall, I heard a chorus saying, Saurabh! 
A bunch of mob surrounded me and we all hugged each other. (In India this kind of bro-love is not considered inappropriate) after ages I saw Sudeep, Manu, Bobby and Sunny.

We all chatted for some time.  Sudeep and Sunny introduced me to their spouses. I was already acquainted with Bobby’s and Manu’s better halves.

Just then all the attention went to one corner of the room. There she was! Oh god! She looked even more gorgeous than ever. She had the same spark in her eyes, which used to drive guys crazy. 

Bobby put his hands on my shoulder and dreamily said in a hush-hush tone, "I should have proposed to her when I had the chance" after saying this he winked at me. I promptly noted in my mind to let his wife know about his dreamy fantasies.

It had been so long since I saw or heard about her and as soon as I found her alone, I approached her. 

Me    -  Hi! Remember me? (What a stupid question, considering our past)

She  -  Oh! Wow, long time. How have you been? Where are you these days?

Me    - I am doing good, right now in London, I am a professor at LSE, I mean,             London School of  Economics.

She   - You and professor, hahaha...I heard but never believed that.

Me    - Well even I can't believe that, so are you still with Microsoft?

She  – No I moved to Accenture, I am in Bangalore these days.

Me    – That’s great.

She   - So, what about you? I heard you got married.

Me    - Well you heard wrong, I am still single. Anyway where’s your husband?

She  - He is… traveling (was there a hint of disappointment?)

As the party progressed, our batch got together; I asked her whether she wanted to fill her glass with some more wine, she looked at me, and said, "what the hell, fill it".
Then we all started to talk about our interesting teachers, classes, classmates who were not present in the party, you know, general nostalgic moments.
Manu was 5 drinks down and suddenly said, how can we forget the most talked about couple of our batch. Everybody looked at her and me. Oh God! I just wanted to hang Manu at that time, bloody drunkard! It was such an awkward moment. 
I was sure that she was feeling the same, but surprisingly she was looking at me and smiling. I smiled back, looked down and at that moment, old memories flooded back. 

                                       Chapter 2
                                    K.V and friends

Flashback - 17 years ago...

I come from a middle class background; I lived with my Ma (mother) who was a psychology lecturer at Rama Devi college (I could never lie to her, she always caught me) and my older brother Tarun, who was doing his +2 in science from BJB college. Like all bright Oriya science students he wanted to join IIT, so most of the times he would either be studying or going for tuitions. My dad had expired when I was 4 years old. Thanks to his LIC policy and my mothers teaching, we could scrap a decent living.

I usually hanged out with my buddies Manu (Amit) and Bobby (Subrat) after school hours. They were my best friends. We all stayed in the same vicinity at Shahid Nagar and used to cycle together to school.

I was definitely not the tallest boy in my class, usually standing somewhere in the middle of the line during assembly. I was an average guy to look at although according to Ma, I had the most wonderful smile but she used to say that about bhai (brother) as well.

Bobby was a neat boy, he always wore the whitest shirts and socks and they never got dirty, his shoes were polished and the thing was that his clothes were the same by the end of the day while my white shirt would be brown, socks, black and the shoe would be filled with so much sand that I could create an award winning sand sculpture with it. Bobby was good at studies. During the exams he would always whine saying that it didn't go well and when the results were out he would always be among the toppers. He was also the first person to drive a bike, car, own a computer and a mobile phone. He was the only child. His dad worked in a bank as the General Manager and mom was a school teacher. She was an amazing cook and used to make the most delicious biryani. Inspite of that, Bobby loved eating out, in fact most of his pocket money used to go on the street food he devoured. 

Manu was Mr. cool, his dad was in army and used to make him do yoga every morning. He said that it calmed him down. He was usually shy around girls and never ever spoke badly about anyone. I used to wonder how could anybody be so good. He was athletic but never participated in any of the sports event. 

Unlike my brother, I was an average student and usually got a 9th or 10th rank in class, although I was always good in sports and co curricular activities. Due to my interest in sports (mostly football and kho-kho) I went for inter school sports tournaments. Kendriya Vidyala (K.V), has four stages of inter school competitions. The first stage was cluster meet, where students studying in K.V's from the same city participated. After the selection, they would move to Regionals, where usually students from the same State would participate. The selected students would then move to Zonals where students from the same zone competed. The final stage was Nationals.

I was just back from the Nationals of inter school football tournament. At that time I was the youngest member of our team. I was studying in the 9th standard; the rest of the team was mostly from 10th and 11th standard. As we won the finals, my name was announced in the school assembly and I had to walk to the podium to receive all the praise from the principal. The point was that I was one of the rare popular students.

While I was participating in the tournament, everybody was talking about one particular girl named Mehak Saranghi. Although she was in 9th standard, every boy from 6th standard to 12 standard had a crush on her. Talks of her beauty had reached far corners of our city and many students from other schools were also aware of her enchanting persona. She was not in my section so I had just seen her a couple of times and to be very frank I was hardly interested in girls and romance at that time. Don't get me wrong I was na├»ve, more interested in Tintin, Shaktiman and sports. 

Peer review has amazing powers over individuals. When I saw that every other boy was attracted to her, I was intrigued and wanted to check her out properly.

I got that opportunity at the intra school sports tournament. There were 4 houses in our school and students representing these houses participated in the games. For this, last 2 periods were converted into sports periods. Some students were participating in various sports and the rest were cheering their respective teams. As everybody was out on the school ground, it was a great opportunity for guys to check out the girls (not sure about vice-versa). It was also one of the rare occasions to see girls in skirts or shorts as the usual uniform was salwar kameez (a traditional dress which makes hot girls look like nuns).  

 I was checking out the games, which were going on at that time and saw that there was the girl's volleyball match going on. I saw Mehak, she was wearing blue knee length shorts and a white t-shirt with madonna's picture on it. Her hair was tied backwards. There was something charming about her, which made me notice her properly. She was amazing on the court, full of enthusiasm and high spirits. Her team was winning the match and all the boys were cheering for her. Nobody bothered about his or her houses (You see, as I said before, we had four houses in our school. Raman house, Subash house, Gopabandhu house and Ashok house). Her team won and as she was being congratulated by the students of her house, and everybody else, Suddenly, I felt that she glanced at me, I was standing far away, to be sure I looked at her again and our eyes met for a few seconds, a little longer than the usual glance. After that she walked away with her friends. Her face was radiant with joy and my face was epitome of confusion! What was this feeling? For the first time in my life I could feel my heartbeat, and the bugger was beating really fast. I was also sweating but that may have been due to the hot weather. 

Just then I realised that I had not checked one of the most important thing, which every guy checks in a girl, before embarking on the voyage of crush. Was Mehak Saranghi taller than me? Like I said before I was not the tallest of the boys and till then it never bothered me, but today it seemed like my very existence depended on my stupid height. I had to find out before it was too late. 
I stood by the gate and waited for the last bell to ring. As the bell rang, students started to rush out, and boy were they in a hurry. Everybody wanted to reach home so that they could quickly eat and go to play with their neighbourhood friends. Bobby and Manu also came out and were frantically signalling me to leave. I asked them to go ahead. I saw Mehak coming out on her bicycle. I cursed my luck as there was no way I could figure out her height while she was riding her cycle. Just then a small boy got knocked down by another senior guy, who was riding a hero puch. The senior left without realising what happened. The boy fell in front of Mehak. She quickly got down of her cycle and rushed towards the boy. I did the same. Both of us reached the boy at the same time. It was just like the scene from DDLJ, where Anupam Kher and bua are picking up the fallen flowers and 'baharon phool barsao' song was playing in the background, the only difference was that instead of flowers there was this little kid. As we got him on his feet, he gave a broad smile and said that he was fine. The moment I realised that he was fine, I told him to take care. The boy ran away. Mehak looked at me and gave a warm smile. I smiled back but couldn't utter a single word. She looked at me for a second, turned back and left. I stood there like a complete fool, and yet I was happy because I just realised that I was taller than her. yipee!

                                     Chapter 3
                                  The first crush

I couldn't sleep for the whole night, just moved from one side of the bed to another. Whenever I closed my eyes; she was there in front of me, giving me that warm smile. Was this love? How could it just happen without any prior notice or permission? It was not fair. Throughout the night, I was hoping to dream about her, but to dream one needs to sleep and alas, I couldn't even do that. I just imagined what my dream would be if I ever fell asleep.

The next morning, I polished my shoes, combed my hair for an extra 10 minutes and applied my mother’s fair and lovely cream before leaving for school (the ads said it would work in two weeks, so I applied 2 weeks worth of cream, but it became too sticky and I had to wash it off). 

I was eagerly waiting for the beginning of morning prayers. Point to be noted, I used to hate morning prayer sessions. They made us sing a prayer which nobody understood. "Daya Kar dan Na bhakti ka, hume parmatma dena". Then we were asked to recite a pledge. Now this was one of the most interesting pledges in the world. 

India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters.
I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.
I shall strive to be worthy of it.
I shall respect to my parents, teachers and all elders and treat everyone with courtesy.
To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion. In their well-being and prosperity alone lies my happiness.

Now we were fine with everything else, but the part where all the boys had a problem was with the 'brothers and sisters' part. If all Indians are brothers and sister, then how can we have babies? So, none of the boys above 6th standard repeated the 'sisters' part.

The pledge was usually followed by a thought of the day and news. After that the teachers would proceed with announcements. The prayer used to end with the national anthem. Although I didn't understand half of it, I used to feel really pumped up and passionate while singing it.

So getting back to that day, as all students attend the prayer in the open field, it was the perfect place to see her. At last I saw her standing at the back of the class line. She was talking in whispers with her friends. Not even once she looked in my direction. Obviously she was not interested in me. 
In the afternoon, Sudeep entered the classroom, he looked quite aghast. I asked him what was the matter. Sudeep said that he accidentally collided with Mahek, and she shouted at him in English “Stupid kahin ka” (we used to speak in Hindi of course, although it was an English medium school), "What does she think of herself". I asked him whether he retaliated, but he said that he couldn't say anything to her and returned after the humiliation. I felt very bad for him. I swore to teach her a lesson. (I was also angry because she didn't notice me that morning while I was trying to dream of her for the whole night).

During the lunch break, we saw her coming up the stairs; I was at the top of the stairs and going down. 

As we were passing each other, my shoulder touched hers  (this time it was no accident, I did it on purpose), I was all ready for a confrontation, my mind was ready with 2-3 English sentences (like – same to you, you stupid) to answer her back and then something happened which I never thought would happen, she looked at me, smiled and said "sorry”, and walked down. 
I was astonished. Sudeep was flabbergasted and said, "Bloody hell, she said sorry to you and shouted at me, and that too in English, bloody bloody hell". I should have felt bad for Sudeep, but when the girl of your dreams smiles and say's sorry, you don't feel bad, you feel ecstatic.
After that whenever we saw each other, we exchanged looks. Initially it was for 2-3 seconds, but gradually as I got confident, I started to look at her for longer duration of time till she took away her gaze from mine, she was feeling shy and yet was not completely defiant. This happened for the next few weeks. She would be walking with her friends and throwing glances at my direction from time to time while talking to others.
She always used to move around with her group of friends (By the way I just don't understand why do beautiful girls have 2-3 girls following them all the time?)
All this while, we never spoke. I guess I was too afraid to approach her, my fear was that whatever pleasure and hope I had by just looking at her would fade away as soon as I opened my mouth. And yet I wouldn't miss an opportunity to have a single glimpse of her. It was like my existence depended on that one look. Sometimes I couldn't see her for the whole day. Those days were tough. 

One Saturday, while taking a break from an intense session of cricket, I finally confided to my friends about my infatuation. Obviously they made super fun of me and said that I had gone mad. Bobby even challenged me saying that if she ever became my girlfriend, he would give all of his Tintin comics and Hardy boys collection to me, including our all time favorite Super Commando Dhruv’s classic and immortal Raj comic Kirigi Ka Kahar. (That challenge itself was enough for me to take serious consideration). I was determined to get her. I tried to remember how Raj charmed his way into Simran’s heart in my favorite movie DDLJ. I had to do something like Raj did!

                                       Chapter 4
                                Will you be my friend?

The following day I was on my bicycle on a great mission. I was going to Mehak's house, which was adjacent to the famous Lingaraj temple, hoping against hope to catch a glimpse of her, while she went for her morning tuition's. You see, I came to know that she used to leave at 8:00 am on Sunday mornings for her math's tuition.

As the temple bells rang, I reached near her colony gates at 7:45 am and waited for her darshan. At 7:50 am I saw her coming out. She was, sitting behind her dad's scooter. She was wearing a pink salwar with flowery designs, her hair was wet and her skin was glowing. She looked so pure and heavenly. She saw me and I could catch a twinkle in her eye and a faint smile. This time she didn't look elsewhere, we just locked ourselves in each other's gaze, it was like time had frozen itself. The site of her in the background of the morning mist and the gorgeous temple left me with a divine sense.

The next day was the gloomiest day ever, it was raining and there was no way we could go out and play football during the lunch break. Our lunch break was spent in the bleak classroom. The 6th period (the one after the lunch break) was our Social Studies (SST) period. Padhi sir, our SST master entered the class and called me and Prateek. He wanted us to help him with copy correction in sec-b, now I was in sec-c and the moment I heard about going to sec b, the whole day suddenly became bright, because it was Mehak’s class. The moment I reached sec-b, I saw her. I hoped that she would be impressed, as it was quite prestigious to be called by a teacher for help. I was distributing the answer sheets. When I called Mehak's name, she came forward, took her answer sheet and said “hi, you are Saurabh right?” Wow! She knew my name, I tried to play cool and said, "ya! And you are Mehak (told in a single breadth with a broad smile which could make the ‘mask’ feel shy, what happened to playing it cool, dumb dumb me). She smiled, and my heart melted. There must have been a lot of noise in the class but I could only hear my heartbeat.

Mehak   - So how have you been?

Me         - Till today I was ok, but now I am feeling great

Mehak   - Ah! and why is that?

Me         - Don't know, something wonderful happened right now

Mehak   - (she smiled and asked) Can I be your friend? 

Me         - What? You want to be my friend? I mean, Of course,  I was hoping                    to ask myself.

Mehak  - Then why didn't you? And with that comment, she winked at me and                left with her paper.

So, after making a complete buffoon out of myself, and making a really hot friend, I went back to my class with complete and utter disbelief. Obviously all the boy's in her class were my frenemies now. 

I was quite happy; at least she was talking to me. My foremost mission was to convey my feelings to her.
But the biggest test of all was coming the following day and I was shitting in my pants. My entire love life depended on it.

                                      Chapter 5
                                  Oh shit! its rakhi

The doomsday for all prospective Romeo’s had come. It was the pavitra raksha bandhan day. A day when all sisters tie a thread on their brothers hand and seek their protection and love and in return receive gifts. Now I don't have to convey the gravity of the situation. Till this year, I was very happy with this day. Since I don't have any sisters, Mani, my uncle’s daughter used to tie a rakhi to bhai and me. At school a lot of juniors would tie the rakhi and become rakhi sisters. My hands used to be full of rakhis. But this year my position was different. I was worried because I thought that Mehak would tie the rakhi on my hand and I would become her rakhi brother. I heard that Mehak and other popular girls used to do the same to any boy who showed remote interest. This was a full proof plan to convey -  back off.

My first reaction that day was to bunk school and take sick leave. But the problem was I couldn't lie to my mother. No, not because of respect or fear, it was because she was a psychology lecturer and she used to magically know that I was lying.

So fearing for the worst, I left for school. On my way even Bobby and Manu could make out that I was under 1 trillion tons of pressure. Seeing my tensed face, Bobby started to sing "Bhaiya mere, rakhi ke bandhan ko nibhana" (its a bollywood song meaning, oh! dear brother, take care of your sister). I gave such a massive kick to his bicycle, that he lost his balance and crashed. It was his good luck that he fell on the sand. Even after falling down, he was still grinning and singing the song with renewed determination. The fact that he was a terrible singer didn't help a bit. 

At assembly, I saw mehak smiling and waving at me, she gestured to meet after prayers.
I had never sung  prayer with such devotion till that moment, ‘Just save me today God'.
As expected, more than half the population of boys had bunked the school.
After assembly, Mehak came to me and said that she wanted to give something special to me during lunch break. I went to class with a heavy heart. Defeated by fate, I cursed cupid. Of course she was not interested in me, I was just an ordinary boy, not even topper of my class. And she was a pari, not from this world, there was no way she was ever going to like me.
We met outside the football field; children were running around and playing with full gusto. She came to me and asked, “Do you want ME to tie YOU a rakhi?” I extended both my hands and innocently said ‘No, my hands are already full with rakhis, see’. She looked at me for a few seconds, and then laughed. “Wow! That was a good one; anyway I don’t want to tie it either”. She winced and said, “I want you to be my friend, who knows, maybe my best friend” saying that she left.

I stood there in shock; I tried to understand what happened. Maybe she was checking whether I was interested in her or not. Or maybe she wanted to tie it but when she saw that I was not interested, said no so that her pride would not get hurt, or maybe she just wanted to have fun. But who cared, she didn't tie a rakhi to me. ‘Thank you god!’ The future was not as bleak as I expected after all. 

                                       Chapter 6
                                   The special songs

 Now that we were friends, we were meeting more often,  I also some how managed to steal her away from her gang of girls. We never mentioned the rakhi incident to anybody, at least I didn’t. Interestingly we talked about everything else except romance. 
Every evening I would practice in front of Bobby and Manu to say how I felt about her and the next day, would chicken out.

One day as we were having the tastiest aloo tikki in town at the famous Sahu chat near DAV 8 number school, Bobby said, “Enough is enough! I have an idea”(Bobby with idea means disaster)

Bobby – “Bhai, I can’t see you like this! Why don’t you send her a card, you know those mushy, Archie ones”

Me – “Bobby if you don’t want to give your comics collection to me then just say it, stop giving me your absurd ideas”(remember Bobby’s bet of giving me his comics collection if I managed to patao Mehak?)

Bobby – Arre! What’s so absurd?

Me – What if she tears the card into gazillion pieces and stops talking to me? What if she goes and complains to Pani sir, anyway he doesn’t like me, no no! I don’t want to take that risk.

Bobby – I didn’t know you were such a phatu, Saurabh is a phatu, na na na na na na!

Me – Shut up mote, pitega sala! Topic closed ok.

So, the next day, like all backstabbing best friends, Bobby and Manu, got a nice card from Archies. It said

                                     Outside cover – 

                                    Our love is eternal

                                          Inside – 

                           Darling, you are my temptation,
                                  My only motivation,
                         The more you give, the more I want,
                     To sugarcoat you with my voluptuous pont.
                             The only thing I want to do
                          is to hold you and hug you tight
                           Shower you with kisses infinite.

Then they bribed a 3rd standard student with half of Cadbury chocolate (As Bobby couldn’t resist the other half) and asked him to deliver this card to Mehak.
Obviously I was unaware about this whole episode.

Later that day, as I was coming from common room after delivering some copies to our class teacher, I saw Mehak with her friends, they were laughing non-stop at something. She was not amused. I went to join the fun and be a part of it too, she coldly looked at me and asked in a very serious tone, “Did you by any chance send me something?”
I said ‘No… why what happened?’
She showed me the card and said, “Somebody has sent me this card and forgot to write his name, I wonder who this mystery man is?”
(The idiots forgot to write my name on it, inexperience is sometimes bliss)
My heart skipped a beat (I thought somebody else had sent her the card and was playing games with her, I had missed a great opportunity, although the card was the ugliest and stupidest card ever, but she somehow liked it, obviously I had no clue that it was sent by those two monkeys). I told her, “must be some despo, don’t think about it just tear it na”. She told me that she was not going to do that, so with a heavy heart I said bye to her and went back to my class.
As soon as I entered class, both Bobby and Manu jumped in front of me in an excited and animated manner and asked, “Did you meet Mehak by any chance”?
I sadly looked at them and said with a deep voice, “Some idiot has sent a card to Mehak, and not written his name. It is the ugliest card ever, As if some girl has sent it, YES! Only a girl can write those words, maybe a girl has sent it to her, I thought a girl–girl thingie happens in America only, may be that’s why nobody has written a name”. For some reason I wanted to believe that.
Hearing that both Manu and Bobby quietly stood up and disappeared. (Later I came to know that both of them were blaming each other for not writing my name on the card.) 

It became an obsession for me to find out the person who sent her the card. At last all my detailed viewing of Tehkikat and Byomkesh Bakshi was going to come handy, I went to Mehak and casually asked her how did she get the card, she told me that one of the junior students gave it to her and ran off, since she was used to receiving cards, she didn’t bother to ask from whom it was. “Anyway there were no chocolates this time, whoever sent it doesn’t love me that much, Everybody knows that I love Kit Kat”. I asked her wasn’t she interested in knowing who sent her the card, she said that she had dozens of anonymous cards like that and she had stopped wondering, any way according to her if anybody liked her, he should have the balls to come and proclaim his love for her, a little dramatic but was she giving a hint? I asked her why was she keeping the cards then, she told me that one day, she wanted to show her kids that she was a popular girl. Seriously I can never understand girls. Anyway she showed me the boy.
I grabbed the little devil and told him to reveal the name of the person. He said, “Sure, but you’ll have to buy me a chocolate” corruption I say, it starts from childhood, what happened to integrity, I was expecting a little resistance at least, any way, he took me to our class and showed me the culprits. The moment Bobby and Manu saw me with the boy, they looked at each other and ran like their tails were on fire. 
Nevertheless I forgave them, After all what are best friends for.

But Now I had to hurry and tell her how I felt.
So I decided to give her a special present. I bought a blank cassette from 1 number market. There was this one store which used to record all songs, both english and hindi. On side A, were some of my favorite English songs (thanks to bhai's collection) and on side B were my favorite Hindi songs.

Side A    (You can listen to the songs by clicking on them)

Side B

I wrote a note:

Just switch off the lights and listen!

Following day, while leaving for home from school, I casually gave her the cassette. She looked at me and asked, “What’s this?” I said “Arre nothing, just a few songs I recorded, let me know whether you liked them or not” Saying that I quickly left on my cycle. As I was leaving I turned back, she was looking at the note with an elusive smile.
At night, I played the same songs and hoped that she was doing the same.

                                        Chapter 7
                                       The proposal

We were celebrating teacher’s day at school. All 12th standard students sported formal attire and impersonated our teachers along with taking classes and competing against the original teachers in games like tug of war, musical chair, volleyball etc. Apart from farewell, this was the only occasion where girls could wear their mothers sarees to look mature and guys tried to look smart in their father's ill fitting suits.  

I met Mehak but she didn't say anything about the cassette or the songs, even I didn't ask her about it. I knew she was smart enough to understand what my intentions were. And today was a do or die situation for me. I had to get out of school premises with her; it was very difficult to spend quality time without grabbing any attention at school. So I asked whether she wanted to go on a ride with me, she probed, “You want to take me on a ride on your cycle? ‘sone ki cycle chandi ki seat, ao chale darling hoke double seat? ‘Are you crazy?’ I was so smitten by her that even her lame joke sounded like a masterpiece. Proudly I said “ Haha, no re, I sneaked my brother’s Hero Pouch 3G and you, my lady, are going to be the second woman to get a ride on it” inquisitively, she asked who was the first one, and grandly I said ‘Ah…my mom of course!’.

It was a pleasant day with a cloudless sky and warmth of sun was gently kissing our skins. I picked her up from school gate.
She was skeptical but didn't complain, after half an hour’s ride she excitedly asked, are we going to Puri? Bingo! Yep, we were heading towards Puri.

It was a wonderful day (I have to repeat it because it was). We could feel the smell of sea and sensed the wonderful breeze, Puri was nearby. As we entered the town and reached the temple, I parked the bike and went inside with her. The beautiful architecture of this 11th century temple was spellbinding. There were a dozen of pot bellied priests circling the tourists and asking to perform various puja's. As we were standing in the queue for the iconic Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra deity’s darshan, I closed my eyes and with all devotion I could muster, asked for only one wish, (well, I don't have to mention what that wish was). After the darshan, we went to have the famous Prasad. The Puri Jagannath temple has the largest kitchen in the world and it’s a sin not to have a taste of the most wonderful offering. After the scrupulous meal, she called her dad from an STD ISD PCO booth, and told him that she was going to be a little late as she was rehearsing for the annual day. I had already told Ma and bhai that I had tuitions. 

We went to the main beach. It was full of people, mostly Bengalis. It is said that one is not a complete Bengali till he or she visits Puri. Even the Odiya’s are treated like second class citizens. All shops, hotels, motels and even menus are in Bengali. Thousands of Bengalis visit puri during holidays, for them puri is part of West Bengal only. 
While walking along the beach, we reached a secluded part near the windmills, there were very few people there; she took my hand in her own. We spent the whole day sitting  there. I wanted to say so many things but couldn't. God knows where I was going to get the courage from. 

Mehak – ‘You know what, I always wanted to come here without my parents. They always have so many restrictions’, and then she said ‘thank you!’ it was almost a whisper.

It was twilight, the beautiful sun was settling down, the air was getting a little nippy and there was nobody around us, the only companion was the sea and its melody.

I don't know what happened, somehow I gathered all the courage I could, took her palm and kissed it gently, She looked into my eyes, and just like that I knew that the moment had come, I slowly leaned forward and just as our tender lips were going to lock, I stopped, I could feel her warm breath, Just for a second we were like that and then she went ahead and the best moment of my romantic existence came to life. Oh god! What a Divine feeling. I could never imagine that lips could be so sensitive and soft. I didn't know the technicalities or science of kissing but even today I feel that it was the perfect kiss.

With closed eyes, I said, ‘I love you Mehu!’ She softly kissed me on my cheek and said 'I love you too, and thank god you said it, at last'.

We realized that it was getting late. Honestly, I didn't want to go back, just wanted to lay there with her for the rest of eternity.

While riding back, she hugged me tightly, and put her head on my back. I was getting goose bumps and couldn't believe that the most awesome girl of my town was actually with me.

I dropped her near her house, reached home, took the cassette and played the song “Bahon ke darmiyan”all night long. The whole night was drowned in the memory of my first kiss and the touch of her tender lips.

                                      Chapter 8
                                I have a girlfriend

I still couldn't believe that Mehak Saranghi was my girl friend. After I gave this fabulous news to my friends, Bobby had to depart from his beloved Tintin comics and Hardy boys collection. But he was more than happy. 

Bobby and Manu made me narrate the whole Puri episode some hundred times and also wanted to know about my first kiss and other details. Bobby asked ‘Didn’t your nose collide while kissing?’, ‘How many times did you apply brakes while driving?’ ‘Were your eyes open or closed while smooching?’, did you eat pass pass before doing it?’ I decided to remain silent and not answer his innocent & absurd questions.

 As per the tradition, I had to give a treat to Bobby and Manu. So after taking out my pocket money from piggy bank (what? mom always taught us about the importance of saving), I took them to Bapuji Nagar where we had the most amazing kebabs and Biryani at Badal’s. The tangri kebab was to die for and the Mutton Biryani was cooked in Kolkata style. And my rascal friends were not ready to compromise on chat near RD Women’s college, even though we could ogle at plethora of college girls there.

Mehu used to call me at 9 pm on my landline number (I wish we had mobile phones and free sms services at that time), her family used to watch news, my bhai would be studying and mom would be cooking. Before dating her, I used to wonder how could a boy and girl talk for hours on phone. Wouldn't they get bored? But now, we could never stop talking. 

We would speak about our future plans. She was very ambitious. She wanted to travel the world as a dancer. She was passionate about Odissi dance and was doing exceptionally well. She was learning Odissi under a Russian teacher named Veeta. I never understood why Russians were so interested in Odissi and why they had so many Odiya students. I heard that the whole Russian interest in Odissi was started by an Odiya lady in Moscow. Her name was Dr. Swarnalata Parida and she lived there with her family and started to teach Odissi to a few Russians. Veeta was one of her first students. Mehu also wanted to do the same and she was quite inspired by Mrs. Parida, anyway Mehu had done many solo performances at various festivals and was an upcoming star. I watched her perform at Rabindra mandap. She was mesmerizing. Every single soul at that auditorium gave her a standing ovation. She was the star of the evening and I felt something which I never felt before, Respect.

My dreams were very small in her comparison. I wanted to live in Bhubaneswar with Ma and bhai. Like all boys in my school, I hoped to get a decent rank in engineering entrance exam and get a seat at CET or REC. I knew that I was not an IIT material. I had seen my brother slog for hours and could never dream of going through the same torture.

Initially I was very tempted to bunk school and spend maximum time with her, but I just couldn't do that, every teacher knew me. They also compared me with my brother and expected me to be as good as him. (Having a sibling who is better than you in studies and other aspects is a pain in the ass). So to spend as much time as possible with Mehu, I used to ride back with her from school. Sometimes we went to the aloo dum dahi bara shop near Convent school during our lunch breaks. A lot of KV boys would also be there, mostly in groups. They stood there to watch the beautiful Convent girls. The girls wore knee length skirts, and our guys used to go crazy looking at their legs. Our school uniform for girls was salwar kameez, so one must understand their desperation and appreciation.

I used to spend a lot of time with her at Science Park. It was lover’s paradise; all college students would be there with their partners. We used to change our clothes so that we would look more mature. Another hot spot was the planetarium. They used to play a show on space and on most Sundays we would be there, sometimes I would drag Bobby and Manu with us so that we would look like a group.  Mehu would also drag some of her friends with her. Well the auditorium was dark and perfect place to make out. And as we were students nobody even doubted and thought that we were there for education. They were right; we were there for education but of some other kind.

Mehu owned a Sony Walkman; it was a gift from her uncle who lived in Toronto. She would keep her head on my lap and listen to the songs I gave her. For some reason, she would hold me tightly and cry on hearing ‘Bahon ke darmiyan’ song.  Well that became our special song. 

With her by my side, I realised that how beautiful my city was. We used to get away to Dhauligiri and Udaigiri. It was a beautiful place near Bhubaneswar with ancient caves dating back to 2nd century BC. Mostly we used to visit these places with friends but from time to time we used to sneak out on our own. 

At first, we tried to keep our affair a secret at school, but as Mehu was quite popular, everybody was interested in her life. So it was not long before the grapevine spread about her and some guy dating her. I became a demi god for all the prospective losers who dreamt of dating beautiful girls but could never muster courage. They were even willing to pay for my advice. Bobby and Manu had already decided to open a venture with me acting as a love guru! 

                                     Chapter 9
                    Disaster of mammoth proportions

The summer heat was scorching our town when suddenly tiny droplets of water started to moisten the soil. Within no time it was raining heavily. When you are in love, rain has a totally different meaning. Earlier I used to hate rains. We couldn’t play during recess and sports periods but now I got an opportunity to spend time with my girlfriend, yes! My Mehu. I started to notice the beautiful aroma of earth when it got wet. You will feel like all songs are written and sung keeping your emotions in mind. Romance in rainy season is the best thing ever.

The annual day was approaching; Mehu was busy as she was performing in 3 acts. I used to sneak in and watch her rehearse with others. She was there in a Sambalpuri group dance, solo Odissi dance and some South Indian group song. She told me that her Odissi dance was dedicated to me and I was eagerly waiting to see it.

I was performing in a satirical Hindi comedy skit named “Band karo brashtachar. Due to rehearsals we couldn't meet on a regular basis but still stayed in touch. She was an integral part of my life now.

I will never forget that fateful annual day. The auditorium was filled with students and their parents. All teachers were there. The participating students were getting ready for their 5 minutes of fame. Mr. and Mrs. Saranghi, mehu’s parents were also there to see their daughter perform. My family couldn’t come that day as Ma had collage and bhai had coaching class exam.

The chief guest had arrived and was watching the inaugural songs, he seemed to be bored, as if he was attending his political rival’s election victory march. He was supposed to wait till the end of cultural program; his main job was to distribute the award certificates for the competitions carried out throughout the year and give an uninspiring speech.

My skit was over. We got a decent response. I was playing a corrupt politician who was a complete rascal. People laughed at all the wrong places but who cared, it was over and we didn't screw up big time.

I was at the backstage, waiting for Mehu’s performance. She entered the stage like a diva. Gave a namashkar to all the guests and commenced her dance. Suddenly the whole auditorium was silent. She was performing the abhinaya. The dance was effortless, graceful and sensuous. Her dance was based on Radha-Krishna theme and I wanted to jump in and take her away with me.

As soon as her dance ended, she got the best response of the day. Everybody clapped. Some seniors whistled from the back. I could see parents congratulating Mr. and Mrs. Saranghi.

As the drapes came down, I went and hugged her tightly. We could hear people talk at the other end. She was also ecstatic and in the innocence of the moment we kissed. It felt like an eternity when suddenly I realized that the auditorium was completely quiet. We broke our embrace and saw to our horror that the curtains had been raised and everybody was looking at us with utter disbelief and astonishment. The chief guest suddenly woke up from his hibernation and was watching us with wide eyes. All teachers were stunned. As the silence was engulfing everybody in its  stride, a loud whistle was heard from the back and suddenly the entire rear part of auditorium started to cheer and clap. Well it looks good in movies but in real life it's damn scary. Mehu’s parents got the biggest shock of their life. Suddenly the proud parents became the ashamed ones, at least in the eyes of other jealous parents and teachers. My corrupt and villainous role in the play didn't help a bit, for once I wished I had done a bad job. I knew that we were in big trouble, just how big, I didn't realize till the next morning.

                                     Chapter 10
                               Full on family drama

After last day’s fiasco, the principal called my Mother and Mehu’s parents to school. I was sitting outside the principal’s office. Every teacher was looking at me as if I was a hardened criminal. The principal said that the whole school’s reputation had gone down the drain. It was as if somebody had cut off his scooters seat with blade and put ink on it, well actually the 12th standard students had done that too, and when he sat on it, his whole trouser got wet with blue ink, but even then he was not as furious as he was today.

Our school peon Raju, asked me to go inside the principles room, where the whole drama was unfolding. I entered the room and stood in front of the peering eyes of principal and Mehu’s dad. My Ma was looking down. The principal was very angry and said that had it not been for my elder brother and my mother, I would have been rusticated from school. I was given a stern warning. Mehu’s dad was giving me death stares.

I tried calling Mehu the previous night but couldn't get through. Every time her dad picked up the phone, I disconnected it. She was under house arrest.

Although the principal and teachers were angry, everybody else in school was ecstatic. At last something cool happened in our school. Some students even wanted to take my autograph. The incident became folklore.   
All this while Bobby and Manu were by my side. The worst thing about that day was getting back home. I knew a family drama was on cards. Ma was silent and didn't say a word at school; usually it meant that I was in big trouble.

I reached home. My brother and Ma were sitting in our small drawing room. We had an old sofa set and a table in there. Our antique konark tv set was on with some krishi program on Doordarshan.

I expected the mood to be like a scene from 70’s Bollywood melodrama, a sad tune playing in the background, heavy thunders and mom crying. Instead, they were acting all normal. I straightaway went into my room, which I shared, with my brother.

After 5 minutes Ma came and told me that we were going out for dinner to a restaurant. Now let me tell you this. We could only afford this kind of luxury twice a year, once during Durga puja and once on New Years Eve. This was not what I was expecting. I was all charged up to defend my love and myself. Where did this dinner plan come from?

We caught an auto rickshaw and went to Dawat’s, which was in Shahid nagar. All this time Ma and bhai were talking normally while I was quite and confused.

We ordered food; well bhai did most of it. I was in no mood to eat before the order came but as soon as food arrived, I couldn't resist and dug in. After dinner we came back home. Nobody talked about the school incident or what happened at principal’s office. As if miraculously the entire episode never occurred.

As I was getting ready for bed, Ma came into our room. She opened our old album, which had Dad’s and her pictures. Well, I never discussed this with anyone but my dad died in an accident. He was not even riding the scooter. He was sitting at the back and his colleague was riding it. A bus hit them from behind while they were waiting for the lights to turn green, ironically he was afraid of driving a vehicle. He was a physics professor at BJB college. It was his dream to see his kids in IIT, that’s why bhai was so dedicated in his studies.

While looking at the pictures Ma started to sob. Then she looked at us and said that she did everything in her power to fulfill his dream and make us successful but she had failed in doing so.
She said ‘I beg you not to get into this love shov thing till you finish your studies and start working, you owe this to me and your dad’. Now what could I say to that? I went and hugged her tightly, and promised to forget Mehu. Seeing us, bhai also joined in.

The next day I told Bobby and Manu about the whole incident at home. The only thing, which registered in Bobby’s mind, was the food at Dawat’s. He kept on asking me about the stupid menu. Manu was more considered and told me to do yoga to keep my mind off Mehu and other moh mayas of the world.

I had promised Ma, but forgetting Mehu was like forgetting a part of me. She was my first love.

She was not coming to school and after a week we came to know that her dad had taken a transfer to West Bengal. The bugger had taken his entire family with him. For me it was good news as I didn't have to face Mehu and tell her to forget me in person. 

She sent a letter to me through her friend Nisha. I returned the letter without opening it. I couldn’t break my promise to Ma and I knew that if I opened the letter I could never stop myself from rushing to her. I told Nisha to tell Mehu to forget me.

After a month I got a call. As soon as I said Hello, I could hear someone breathing heavily, I knew it was Mehu.

Me        – Mehu?

Mehu   – (she started to sniff)

Me       – Hello!

Mehu   – I miss you!

Me       – (I didn't say anything for a long time and then I asked her) how are                   you?

Mehu   – why did you ask me to forget you? Did my father send goons to beat                you? Did they hurt you?

Me       – No! it’s complicated. Just remember that I love you but can’t be with               you.

Mehu  – Why? Why?

Me      – I made a promise to Ma and I can't break it. So please forget me.

With that I hung up the phone. All this while warm tears were rolling down my cheeks.

                                     Chapter 11
                                      Now what?

As time passed by, I got engrossed in my studies. I became more serious. Bhai got into IIT Madras and chose Computer science. I imagined dad being extremely happy up there. Ma distributed sweets and I had my first beer while celebrating bhai’s success with Bobby and Manu.

After my 12th, I went to BJB collage and studied English. Bobby did his MCA from Utkal University and Manu went to Pune to study law. We were in touch through e-mails and telephone.

Our family’s fortunes changed when Bhai finished his engineering and got a job at CISCO in US. Within a year he took Ma with him. After my graduation I moved to Bangalore and started working with Lowe Lintas, one of the top Ad agencies of India. I worked on some of the top brands of India such as Britannia, and Tanishq. Some of the best creative minds of India were my colleagues. Anil Thomas, Kishore Subramanian, Rajesh Ramaswamy and Rahul Sengupta were legends who inspired and taught me a lot about communication and human emotions.

All this while I dated some girls but it never got anywhere.
I guess you never stop loving somebody. You just learn to live without them. 

I tried to find out about Mehu while I was in Bangalore. I even looked for her on Orkut and later on facebook but never found her. After couple of years I met her friend Nisha. She told me that Mehu married some hot shot IIM guy who belonged to a well to do Brahmin family and she was working for Microsoft in Delhi. I felt like somebody had punched me hard in stomach. I was depressed for a few days and went on Devdas mode. It took me quite a while to get over that period.

After working for 3 years in the advertising industry, I went to MICA for my MBA. It was the best place for branding and communication in India. Bhai helped me out with the fees and loan. He married a Kashmiri girl who was working with him at CISCO in US. I could never imagine bhai falling for any girl. The bugger pulled it off with style and I was very happy for him. The marriage was in Delhi, bhabhi's family, my family along with my close friends and bhai's friends attended the wedding. There were 23 non-veg Kashmiri items. The most awesome marriage food I ever had. Bobby refused to stop eating. He even packed some left over food and took it with him.

On finishing my MBA, I joined O&M as a strategic planner. I was also visiting MBA colleges for part time teaching. Gradually I started to love teaching more than my full time job. Maybe it was in my blood since both my parents were Professors. I applied for PhD and got a scholarship at University of Southampton. I went and finished my thesis and joined London School of Economics and Political Science as an Assistant professor.

Bobby finished his MCA and joined TCS, after 5 years, he moved to Microsoft. He married recently to a wonderful girl, but food is still, his first love. He is settled in Bangalore with occasional trips to UAE. Again he is the first among all our friends to buy his own house.
Manu became a hotshot lawyer in Delhi. In spite of heavy pressure from family, he married his college girlfriend and now they are living happily. Now Manu complains that his parents love her more than him.

Ma was after my life to marry and settle down, but I always ran away from it. I didn't want to blame her or anything. Subconsciously, I just couldn't get over Mehu, it was as simple as that.

One fine day I saw a mail from Bobby. Our school get together was happening in December. Just a faint hope of seeing her again propelled me to book my tickets.

Which brings us back to the reunion night mentioned in chapter 1.

Re-union party

As I woke up from my memory walk, people were starting to leave. Everybody was a little tipsy. I was staying at Ginger hotel and had booked a taxi. I bid goodbyes to Bobby, Manu and Sudeep. We were meeting the next day at Bobby’s house.

I went to Mehu and asked her how she was getting back; she said that one of her friend was going to drop her. I asked her whether I could drop her, she thought for some time and said ‘yep why not’.

While we were in car, I apologized for Manu’s behavior earlier where he mentioned about our past. She smiled and said it was alright.

Mehu  – ‘Initially I was very hurt but got over it’. ‘Don't worry I know what happened. Bobby told me everything a few years back. I met him after my marriage. Don't blame him; he didn't want to hurt you.’

Me      – ‘Arre! Why would I be hurt? Anyway, how’s your Odissi dance?’

Mehu  – ‘I stopped dancing after marriage, my husband’s family didn’t want                    their bahu to dance.’

Me      – ‘What The F***k! But you were so good?’

Mehu  – ‘Life is not a fairytale’.

Me      – You don't seem to be happy?

Mehu – ‘Just because I am drunk, you are not getting any secrets out of me Prof., he he’, it was a melancholic laugh.

And then she cried. She kept her head on my shoulder; I put my hand on her head. It felt just the same way like it was all those years back. (Incidentally, the driver had switched on the fm and 'Bahon ke darmiyan' was playing in the background).

I asked the driver to stop the car.

We sat there for 15 minutes. Both of us didn't utter a word. Then she whispered, ‘I am going through a divorce’.

I almost jumped with joy but controlled myself. I know what you guys are thinking, how could I be so insensitive? Well, when she uttered those words, my first reaction was joy and second was to give her all the support she needed to get through this ordeal. I didn't want to know the details; I didn’t care about the freaking details. I just wanted to assure her that I was there for her and I was not going to abandon her this time.

I don't know what lies in future. But somehow I hope that I can spend my life with my first love. Wish me luck guys. Amen!

                                                The End 
                                         The Beginning