It was a foggy, cold January morning in Delhi, when I reached the airport to board my flight for Mumbai. Standing in the queue to collect my boarding pass, I noticed a lady whom I thought I knew quite well.
I had not seen her face properly till then, but told myself, half in excitement and half in awe: “It must be her; for the similarities are too much to be a different person.”
Four year later, we met again
And as she turned back just then, our eyes eventually met. After how long were we seeing each other? Was it four years really? It seemed like eternity to me. We just kept looking at each other, probably too long for the others in the queue, as the impatient man standing behind me started prodding me to move ahead. I moved ahead, and so did she, along with the queue, but my thoughts instantly wandered a few years back.
“How much she meant to me!” I thought to myself. I could not fancy my life without her, and then it was four years that I had seen or had spoken to her. Possibly ‘moving on’, as they say, is life. But had I really left her behind?
No longer the same feeling
She had collected her boarding pass and hesitantly waited for me. I was anxiously awaiting my turn. I wanted to speak with her, desperately. As we stood there only a few steps apart, I realised how far actually we have moved away from each other. That smile, that warmth in our greeting on seeing each other and that look of joy in our eyes and that spring in our feet when together – all seemed to have been eclipsed.
Finally, having collected my boarding pass, I went up to her. I managed a smile and a faint ‘Hello’ emanated from my lips which was met with a fainter ‘hi’ from her. It felt so surreal – I hardly remembered greeting each other like mere acquaintances. She too must have felt the same, I am pretty sure.
Mementoes of love
Our outstretched hands, however, met for a clumsy handshake, and suddenly she noticed something: the wristwatch that I was wearing. It was the same round-dialled, blue belt one that she had gifted me on my birthday, after we had started seeing each other, saving the meagre pocket money that came from her home.
“Why did you get this expensive wrist-watch when you know that I hate to wear them and can manage with my mobile handset to check the time,” I told her as she tied her gift around my wrist.
“I know. But so long as I see something you are putting on only because I want you to, I would know that you love me,” she replied.
Since the day she gifted it to me, I’ve been very particular to put it on before leaving home.
We were so similar: having the same middle-class upbringing, similar likes and dislikes, coming from the same part of the country, and taking pleasure in those little happy moments that we shared together, and not expecting much from life. We certainly wanted to be with each other.
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An unbreakable barrier
But then something separated us – we belonged to different castes. When the news of our bonhomie reached her home, the male members of her family were infuriated. I was walking out of my college campus one day when suddenly I noticed a certain batch mate of mine pointing at me to a group of four or five people. But little did I imagine what was to befall me. That group of people rushed towards me and started beating me black and blue. One of them picked me up from the ground by my collar and warned: “Keep away from my sister, or else I shall neither spare you nor my sister.”
Then it slowly dawned on me why the sudden assault came about. In the meanwhile, Radhika (that was her name) came running, frantically, and released the hands of her brother from my collar, and kept pleading with him to go away.
She came back with bruises
That incident left both of us rattled. But we were determined: we would not be cowed. We continued to be together. However, something about her made me uncomfortable: for she was no longer her own self in my company. Something was amiss, undoubtedly, and the reason was not difficult for me to surmise either: our relationship did not have the approval of her family, the consequence of which I had suffered. But what shocked, and partly exasperated me as well, was seeing the bruises on her face, neck and below her eyes when she returned from a short visit home.
“Did our relationship bring this about?” I asked her, more out of conviction than out of inquisitiveness.
She kept quiet and I got my reply. I knew I had to do something before things go out of hand.
I soon confided in my parents. They knew about Radhika, but not really all about our relationship: that I was seeing her as my perspective life-partner.
My parents, being born and brought in a modern Indian city, had no qualms about our caste being different.
My parents, being born and brought in a modern Indian city, had no qualms about our caste being different. In fact, they even did not bother to ask about it. But they were against getting me married immediately, as I was not earning then and said: “Tell us which middle-class boy gets married without earning a living. You are still studying and will not be able to take the responsibility of another person,” they said.
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Shall we elope?
They were right. But the reason I was trying to get married as quickly as possible is that I could not see Radhika in more pain. We even thought of eloping, although we are apprehensive about how to manage a living. But desperate as we were, we had planned to elope one evening.
On the same morning, the day we had planned to flee, an elderly lady came enquiring about me in the accommodation that I was put up in. Her getting my address was not difficult, as I used to stay very near my college campus and any of my friends could have easily directed her.
“My younger sister was killed when she wished to marry without the family’s consent,” said a visibly agonised mother of Radhika.
“I don’t want the same fate to befall my only daughter,” she said, breaking down.
Pained as I was on seeing the lady crying, something within me was breaking apart. I was not unaware of something called ‘honour killing’. Of course, how ‘honour’ is restored or raised by such killing is still unfathomable to me.
For our family’s sake
So that evening that we had planned to escape, teary eyed and heart-broken, I and Radhika actually took a pledge: “As our relationship has become the cause of pain to us and a lot of misgivings, we should put an end to this.”
Within a month, we were out of the college and since then have never seen or talked with each other, until of course that chance meeting at the airport.
Having seated ourselves and awaiting the departure, suddenly Radhika’s phone was beeping inside the purse that she was holding. She unzipped it, and as she was bringing her mobile handset out, suddenly two tiny pieces of paper fell on the floor. I knelt to pick them up and instantly realised what they were: the bus tickets of the first journey that we undertook in a local bus. How can I forget that small bus ride: because amidst the pervading chaos and din in the bus, I told her what she really meant to me. I did not really propose to her then, but made it perceptible that I was in love with her, nonetheless.
“I shall keep them close to me as a remembrance of our first journey together,” she had said, snatching away the bus-ticket from me.
Left with memories
By the time I had picked up those torn, tiny pieces of paper and handed them back to her, she was still speaking on the phone but suddenly got distracted and looked at my eyes. The person on the other side of the phone was shouting to get her attention back. I could hear the voice of a lady, an aged one probably. Just like then, this time also she snatched away those tickets from me and hurriedly placed it inside her purse and zipping the purse thereafter, heaved a sigh of relief. And then she continued with her call, seemingly distracted.
As I placed myself again beside her, it occurred to me without a semblance of doubt: “We have moved on, but still making each other a part of our journey.”