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Crossing the Mirage - Passing through Youth
That evening as Chandra ventured into the Public Garden, he found his bearings back in the moorings. When he reached his cherished nook, he spotted a girl seated there, with her back to him and with her head buried in her knees. Though his decency demanded retreat, goaded by her appeal in that posture, he tiptoed up to her. Realizing that she was lost in her thoughts to take note of him, he went nearer to her to gauge her visage but couldn't espy her face as she failed to react to his trespass. However, from that nearness, as the contours of her waist confirmed her teenage and even as her skin began to merge with the color of the setting sun, he stood rooted ogling at her charming back. But when the sun was all set to envelope her slim frame in his shadow, he lounged on the lawn to escape her attention. As though fearing oblivion, and to register their presence for the last time in the day, the nearby bushes began casting their long shadows on the glistening lawn. And that made Chandra eager to get the full measure of her persona before the darkness devoured the vestiges of the vanishing light.
While she got up in grace, as if compelled by his urge, having come out of his trance, he was awestruck by her face. But as her figure too vied for his attention, he felt ennobled by the embodiment of her poise. When she skimmed her sari at her navel and then like a ballerina, she bent at her knees to let the fall of her sari kiss the ground beneath her feet, he ogled her in disbelief. Unknown to her, as he watched her enthralled, she half raised her heels to tuck it under. Seeing her straighten herself to outstretch the fall over her heels, he felt she might be intending to erase her footprints off the ground she would be treading. As she slipped her lithe feet into her velvet slippers, even as his enamored eyes continued to court the contours of her curves, the languid moon seemed all too eager to have a glimpse of her resplendence.
When she bent to pick up her purse, Chandra’s eyes, which had by then grasped the form of her frame, began grappling with the appeal of her seat. When she straightened herself, he got up impulsively, as though to pay obeisance to her angelic self and even though he watched her thereafter, lost to himself, startled by his presence, she stared at him in bewilderment and bowed her head in embarrassment. However, recovering herself readily, she passed by him hurriedly, but crossing the ridge, she turned her head, as though in disbelief. And finding his eyes glued on her, she increased her pace to avoid his stare but soon, sensing that he wasn’t following her, she felt easy. But as his thoughts chased her all the same, she became uneasy and hastened to the exit. It was thus into the twilight, she slipped out of Chandra’s sight that evening.
‘An angel if there is on,’ Chandra thought as if he woke up from a dream. ‘Oh, what feminine aura she has! And how sexy she looks! Her fulsome seat is so enticing, isn’t it? What a gait even in shock! Sadly, she is gloomy. It’s clear she’s perturbed! Why, was she jilted? But would anyone lose such a woman? Well, who knows! What if I woo and win her?’
The impulse that the prospect created propelled him to follow her. But, Nithya, that's her name, reached the gate well before he could step out of that nook. Frantically looking for an auto, she got into the first one she came across. As the vehicle sped past, she recounted her brush with danger in slow motion.
‘How did I fail to notice him all along?’ she kept wondering. ‘What easy prey I was in that secluded spot. Oh, what a lucky escape it was! And isn’t he a little odd?’
She was horrified at the prospect of her violation compounded by his ungainly looks.
‘Anyway, what have looks got to do with one’s nature?’ she thought in time as she grappled with her situation. ‘Who knows, he could be a decent man.’
Though, she felt relieved thus, she went home still bogged down by her own predicament. But Chandra, who nearly ran up to the gate, not finding her there, cursed himself for his slow response.
Beauty benumbs man before it grips him in passion.
‘What a miss,’ he thought, as he headed towards his parked Vespa, ‘and surely she’s a Miss. Why was she so panicky! Did my looks made her scary? Whatever, she overreacted, that’s for sure. Who knows what’s ailing her? Maybe, she’s up against some unwelcome alliance. Oh, if only I could have been a welcome alternative! Yet, I can help her as a friend. But how would she ever know about it? Even if she does, would she care! Will I come to see her again? I must see her again, if only to cement her image in my memory. Won’t I cherish her memory all my life though vaguely, so what?’
The masticating thought of Nithya kept Chandra awake long into that night. But, as he set out to fill his marital canvas with her colorful form, sleep cajoled him in her lap. However, as if to have a preview of her picture in the privacy of the night, he woke up before the day broke. And as the longing she induced in him nagged him all day long, by four in the evening, he began keeping vigil at the gates of the Public Garden. But, when it was five, anticipating her imminent arrival and for the fear of embarrassing her, he left for the nearby Gopi Hotel for a cup of coffee. Coming out, he chain-smoked Berkeley before he finally set out to the park in hope. But once in, he went to the nook in premonition and waited in anticipation.
Nithya, having reached the place, shortly thereafter, headed towards the nook, but as the recollection of the previous day's encounter turned her green, she headed to the other end of the park.
Thus, waiting in hope and ending up in vain, Chandra went home dejected. As her beauty haunted him that night as well, rolling in his bed, he had a horrid time.
“What’s wrong with you?” Anasuya enquired, seeing his appetite suffer at the breakfast table.
“Don’t nag me, mom,” he said, forcing a smile.
“Get married then,” she said, tapping him affectionately.
“Why, for my wife to take over?” he smiled wearily.
“Won’t that sound music to your ears?” she said in jest.
As Nithya didn’t come near the nook that day too, Chandra lost all hope and turned morose.
‘Maybe, she won’t come again,’ he thought in dejection. ‘She could’ve made up with her lover or married at her father’s bidding, or whatever. What a miss it was nevertheless. What a rare specimen of a woman! Possibly there could be none like her ever. Had I followed her forthwith, perhaps, I would’ve stayed her course.’
Looking at the litter of Berkeley butts he threw around, he lit another pensively. But, as his regret turned into remorse, he couldn’t stay there any longer. Checking the time with his Favre Leuba, he realized it was five-thirty.
‘Why not a movie?’ he thought, and headed towards the gate for his Vespa.
‘Oh, God,’ he thought seeing people trickling in droves, ‘how come the vastness of the park turned into a mere nook in my mindset? Well, that’s all about habit, isn’t it? After all, couldn’t she be anywhere here?’
Spurred on by hope, bush by bush, he went about scanning the garden. Tracing her at last, he felt elated though he was weary by then. As he got behind a bush to have a closer look at her, he sensed that she was crying and that agonized him no end.
‘If only I could help her,’ he felt, as a strange sense of solidarity gripped his soul. And as she struggled to compose herself, he kept staring at her with empathy.
When it was dusk, she got up to go and he avoided her view. Though he shadowed her till the gate, he curbed his instinct to follow her.
‘If I loiter around her place,’ he thought, ‘she’s sure to take me for a roadside Romeo. That’s not the way to go about it. Let me try and befriend her, and then I can think how to win her over. As she’s bound to come again, I shall come up with a suitable gambit. That’s the only way to give myself a chance.’
Riding back home on his Vespa, he dreamt of a smooth ride ahead. Yet, he burnt a lot of midnight oil that night planning his moves to checkmate the queen of his heart in the square of his love. When, he thought he conceived the winning move, that only made him even more determined to win her. Next day, after an early lunch, he had a siesta to appear fresh. Donning his best attire, he reached the park in an auto, fearing a ride on the Vespa would make it worse for his hair.
Waiting for her near the entrance, all the while he chain-smoked Berkeley in nervous puffs. At last, sighting her, as he memorized his lines, he tried to steel his resolve as well. But, fumbling at the post, he failed to make the well-rehearsed move. Oblivious to his presence as she passed him by, he stood there benumbed. However, he recovered soon enough, and made bold to pace up to her.
“Excuse me please,” he said tentatively.
Turning around reflexively, Nithya looked at him instinctively. And having recognized him readily, she walked away disinterestedly.
“Hear me,” he summoned up courage to sound bold, “please!”
Goaded by courtesy, she stopped in her tracks.
“I’ve something to tell you,” he blurted out.
“I’m not interested,” she sounded dismissive.
“Please,” he said bringing all his anxiety onto his face.
His love had ensured that she was unable to move away. It was as if she was tied by the sincerity of his love.
“I’m sorry,” he said in the same vein.
“What for?” she said in spite of herself.
“Am I not the cause of your inconvenience?”
“I don’t get you,” she said a little puzzled.
“Haven’t I driven you from that nook?” he said stretching out his hand in the right direction, as though to avoid a communication gap.
Recalling that incident, Nithya blushed to her roots.
“Please go there,” he nearly pleaded. “I’ll go elsewhere.”
“Thank you but…” she seemed too confused to continue.
“Be assured,” he said moving away, “I won’t disturb you.”
Nithya was hardly in a position to comprehend her situation to react. But, before proceeding, she stared at him in stupefaction. As he turned his head to verify her stance, they made eye contact, and that embarrassed her no end. Noticing the nuance, Chandra followed her body language as she paced towards the cherished spot. Though she had slowed down at the bend, she reached the nook panting, but once within, she slumped on the lawn.
‘Oh, how has he been watching me?’ she thought intrigued. ‘What is he up to? Who is he, by the way? Though he looks plain, he appears well bread. Seems he’s not the stalking kind. And isn’t he well-meaning and shy as well. Whatever, it’s all so embarrassing. Now, that he has played the Good Samaritan, hope he leaves me alone. Haven’t I got plenty on hand to bother about?’
Putting the trespasser on the back burner, in despair, she sank into her familiar posture. Elsewhere in that park, Chandra began to take stock of the situation.
‘Did I ambush her?’ he thought. ‘Oh, hadn’t her body language betrayed that? Won’t that be on her mind though she might not focus on me as such? It boils down to the same, after all. Isn’t it a good beginning for befriending? A job well begun is half done. Isn’t it?’
Chandra remained daydreaming in the garden till the watchman’s whistle called the time.
The next day, as Nithya crossed the gate, she looked around tentatively. Not finding Chandra around, she felt at ease, but as she reached the hedge of the haloed spot, she became uneasy.
‘Is he lurking in the corner?’ she thought suspiciously. ‘Maybe, his gesture could be a ruse to lure me here. How can one be sure when it comes to men out to woo women?’
However, reconnoitering the area and finding it vacant, she entered the arena.
‘How wicked of me to attribute motives to an unknown soul,’ she felt remorseful. ‘But then, how am I to fault myself for doubting human nature after all that? Well, once bitten twice shy, isn’t it? But won’t he appear naïve and considerate even?’
As the kind feelings she experienced for the stranger affected her own embitterment, she found nursing them in myriad ways. And discerning the changes on the skyline the setting sun brought in, she could sense the turnaround of her feelings ushered in by the feeble impulse of his goodwill. And, when it was getting dark, feeling lighter, she pulled herself to go. All the while she walked on the pathway with circumspection though in vague anticipation. But, as she reached the gates, her mood turned into one of despair.
Chandra that day, as though to get an overview of his position, went to the nearby Tank Bund instead. Sitting on a bench facing the Hussainsagar, all evening he was engrossed envisaging Nithya’s condition.
‘Had we met here, would the tank bund have acted as a bridge between our hearts?’ he thought, alluding to the symbolism.
Thus, pleased with the idea itself, he recalled the five-century old romance of Quli Qutub Shah and Bhagmathi that had led to the founding of the city. And, he began to daydream, feeling that the coincidence of his idea might portend a good omen. But, by the time it was dusk, he was disturbed by the swelling crowd as well as distracted by the noisy traffic. When he could bear it no longer, he headed home.
‘Am I not trying to pull the mountain of love with a thread of hope?’ he thought on his way. ‘Come to think of it, she hasn’t even given me any scope for hoping! After all, it’s my idea to induce her to think about me. Well, if I were to win her love, won’t occupying her mind be the prelude? Or is it just wishful thinking?’
As doubts about the theories of seduction he’d read about crisscrossed his mind thick and fast, he saw the futility of putting them in practice.
‘Oh, how she haunts me,’ he thought all over again. ‘Let me be content seeing her, at least, to my heart’s content. Damn the theories of crystallization of love. I would love to see her, no more of this self-exile for me. How stupid I was to have missed the pleasure of seeing her today in the misplaced hope of possessing her one day.’
Yet, he couldn’t desist from reviewing the ways and means to make her his wife. Long into the night, and exasperated at the end, he remained where he began, in the tunnel of confusion.
‘Can love ever be prototyped for production?’ he wondered. ‘Is there any foolproof blueprint for that? The impulse of love seems to have a streak of irrationality in it. If not, how could I have fallen for her knowing that all my love may not be worth a damn for her! Since love is blind, looks like it loses its way for the most part. Won’t it seem love is a silly emotion besides being an obsessive sentiment? Oh, where would my obsession for her lead me to? Let me see.’
That night he felt his love was too dear to his soul to be left to his beloved’s caprice. Hence, he set out to think about the ways and means of bringing her around to the altar. In the end, he felt he needed to be bold and forthright with her. But as he recalled the fiasco of his dashing move of yore, he was apprehensive about the intended advance. Nevertheless, he decided to proceed for want of a better move and try his luck just the same.
As planned, the next evening he reached the park and headed straight to the spot in anticipation. But, on reaching the hedge, his legs became logs. Nithya, who saw him thus, stood in apprehension. But as the attraction he felt for her propelled him over the hurdle of his hesitation, he lunged into the nook in a fit of emotion.
“I want to tell you,” he blurted out.
“So you broke your promise?” she said, a little puzzled.
“I couldn’t help from coming,” he said in regret tinged with hope, “I came in spite of myself.”
“What for?” she responded involuntarily, looking up.
“To live,” he said lovingly as his love-filled heart pumped in every ounce of affection he nursed in it into his vocal cords for him to touch the right chord.
“I don’t get you,” she said, touched as she was by his emotion.
“I’m in love with you,” he said, as she lowered her eyes.
She was shocked to hear what she already knew.
“I’m desperate for you,” he continued. “I’m dying to make you my wife. I shall cherish you with all my heart, all my life.”
She looked at him in bewilderment.
“Believe me,” he said.
“What’s this!” she said in vexation. “Is it fair to impose yourself like this?”
“I couldn’t help it,” he continued as if in a trance. “My life depends on your decision.”
“Don’t be mad.”
“I’ve become insane really,” he said in desperation.
Unable to confound her situation, as she left the place in confusion, he sank to his knees in dejection.
‘Oh God, why this fate?’ he bemoaned. ‘Why did I allow myself to demean my love? And scandalize her, whom I love! I’ve lost my head too. It’s unfair of me to have pressured her with my sentiment. What’s worse, I’ve lost my face. It’s a shame.’
As though his remorse consumed his soul, he lay like a corpse on the lawn.
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