We played together during days of the Festival of Color, which in India we call “Holi”. We used to sprinkle those colors of different shades at each other. We giggled, we laughed, we sang, and we ran on the river bank where we used to try crossing the river together with our hands held tight. He used to say, “Hey, slowly, you will slip, then I will lose you forever” and I used to refute “You silly, I am much stronger, this river crossing is nothing” and then I used to slip and he used to pull me up. Then we tried fishing and both of us again skidded in the mud and he would lift me and say, “You are good for nothing”.
“I told you, you never listen to me, you are very bawdy”, he used to say looking at those stray dogs that he always pampered and fed those “Parle G” biscuits. “Why do you love dogs, huh?” I used to ask. He never replied but used to smile and pull my cheeks and say “One day I will marry you and we will have ten dogs to bite you”
“Who said I will marry you? You are so tall, I don’t like tall people. You play football and I like cricket; you sing and I love to dance, so we have nothing in common”, I used to say him always.
“Look, look I have got some red lipstick, let me apply on your forehead, let me see how you look as my bride”, he used to grin.
He used to apply the red lipstick on my parted hair and say, “See, you are my wife, Balika badhu”. For the readers of west, please know Balika Badhu means “Child Wife”.
I didn’t know when we grew up, I remember his visits becoming infrequent and we no more played Holi. My parents cautioned me, “Don’t be so disobedient, learn to stay indoors and concentrate on your studies”.
“Mum, why doesn’t Raj play with me anymore?”, I asked my mother while she tried to comb my craggy hair. My mother continued with the red ribbons, fixing my hair, forgetting the comb and not answering either.
We travelled in the same school bus, I could feel that he angled me, it was a strange feeling, I didn’t know I was gradually becoming an adult.
He completed high school, we no more travelled together, he left for his medical school, and years later I too completed my school and went on the making of an engineer.
It was during my first semester when my best friend whispered me, “Hey, Raj looks like Aamir Khan, and I am planning to propose to him soon. You were his very close friend, so will you pass my letter when he is back during his vacation?”
That was the first time I felt the stab of jealousy, but why did I feel so? I never had any feelings for Raj. “No that’s not true”, I told myself, it’s crime to fall in love, I need to establish myself, I need to prove my worth to the world by climbing the corporate ladder, I need to compete with Raj – “Hey”, I just told myself, “I need to compete with Raj. Why Raj? Come on, no ways, I will get a better suitor for sure” I told myself in a denial mode.
That’s when I started keeping a track on him. He came for holidays, we used to have lunch togethe sometimes, but instead of talking to him openly as I did during my childhood, I blushed. He used to look at me, he used to ask me questions but I couldn’t reply to him and I used to turn red each time I looked at him.
I never exchanged the letters my friend gave me; instead, I used to tear them. Watching the movie “Qayamat se Qayamat Tak”, I felt he did look like Aamir Khan.
And then, that song “Gazab ka hein din, socho Zara” I felt I sang it for him.
It was at a common friend’s wedding, I was with my friend when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned, it was him. His eyes glued to me he pulled me away.
I almost slipped just like those days when I used to slip at those river banks, when he took me in his arms. There was no one around, just the two of us. Cupping my face, he stared at my Kohl blended eyes with the touch of mascara and he asked, “Is it the same lipstick you are wearing, which I applied on you, remember?”
Lowering his face, he kissed my lips and softly said, “Will you marry me when I am back? I always loved you, and you know that, don’t you?”
Pushing him away, I ran back to my circle of friends. My heart was beating loud enough to silence those wedding songs playing while newlywed wed couple exchanged their garlands. I felt those hot flushes, my pulse was all time high.
I returned home with a sense of euphoria, a sense of womanhood, a sense of being a special to someone.
I completed my graduation and moved to a different city. During the breaks, when my parents came to visit, my mother said. “Raj was asking about you, he is so happy that you are doing good, he is very proud of you”.
I never replied to my mother, but I always wanted to hear about him. It was years later my mother broke the news, “Raj got married”. This time I blurted out, “To whom, is it a love marriage or an arranged one?”. “I guess his parents chose some girl, she is very good, a perfect match for him”, my mother replied stitching a table cloth.
I ran downstairs, I could no longer hold my tears. I wept bitterly. I told myself, “I hate you idiot woman. Raj I loved you always, believe me but I couldn’t say that to you, why didn’t you run away with me? I always chose my career over you but for once, come back please, I don’t love this city, I want to be in your arms forever. Leave your wife come back and apply on my parted hair that same lipstick. I can’t love anyone else, believe me, I can’t”
Yes I couldn’t forget him, I couldn’t get over him. I did meet him with his wife. I looked at her and asked myself, “Is she prettier than me?” when Raj softly said, “She is Rimli, my friend. We played together, she is a good dancer and she sings very well. Rimli, she is Reshmi my wife, she wants to learn some songs from you”.
Swallowing a gradually growing lump in my throat, I told Reshmi “Let’s sing Gazab ka hein din socho Zara, ye diwana pan dekho zara, tum bhi akele, hum bhi akele, maza aa raha hein, kasam se, kasam se”. That was the last time I saw Raj. He did come to my city and I too visited his but I tried to make no contact with him, neither did he.
Till date, when I sit in my office desk, I open my wallet where I still have a fading picture of us holding hands and smiling at the camera when his words rings in my ears “Will you marry me when I am back, I always loved you, and you know that, don’t you?”
I wish I told him that day, “Yes Raj it was only you I loved. It’s too late now Raj, I lost you forever.”