About a week ago, I was slurping evening tea when my mother handed me a yellow envelope. The cursive handwriting on the envelope appeared vaguely familiar. However, the name of the sender was not mentioned. I opened it hastily. Inside was an impressive wedding card. The description on the card left me enthralled for a moment. The girl, who was the first crush of my life, was tying nuptial knot on 25th April.
She lived in my neighbourhood at the village where I had grown during childhood. We were in the same class at the village middle school. In my childhood, I grew a kind of strange affinity with her. She was extremely pretty in look and very caring by nature. She would pat my face with her tiny hands and lift me up, whenever I used to sit sadly after getting beaten by my mother for my naughtiness.
She was both bold and beautiful. She wore colourful frocks and matching sandals. I liked her colourful sets of hair band, ribbon and plastic hairpin with which she decorated her neatly plaited hair. Her father worked in Delhi. Occasionally, he visited the village with lots of books, slates, sweets, sandals, frocks, hair-bands, and toys for her. She used to bring for me the tasty spicy pickles of mango, jackfruit, tomato and lemon prepared by her mother. And I used to offer her the milk cream balls prepared by my mother.
Once I sat at the backyard of my house when she came with two fresh pieces of cigarettes. She had pinched them from her father’s pocket. She asked me to get a matchstick to light the cigarettes. I obeyed her immediately. She eagerly finished her pipe, puffing naively and coughing vigorously. Her eyes had turned wet and red. However, I had barely finished a little portion when my aunt appeared there. She caught me by the neck and beat me up severely, using both her hands.
We shared the same jute mat to sit at the village school. For junior classes there were no wooden benches or chairs. Once she brought a very attractive writing slate to class. There were small colourful round plastic strings attached at one end of it. I told her to exchange her slate with mine. But she denied. Overcome by childish greed, I kept her slate in my bag, while she went outside during recess. After returning she couldn’t find it and started crying. She complained to the teacher that somebody had stolen her slate. Everyone’s bag was searched. Ultimately I was caught red handed. The teacher roughly thrashed my back with a thick stick. It developed deep rashes on my skin. Since that incident I stopped talking to her. One afternoon she came to my house with some sweets of the Puja celebration. After leaving them in a plate, she came to me with a special piece of sweet, which she had especially preserved for me. She stared lovingly at me. I got persuaded and gulped the full piece at one go.
At the age of twelve I was deported to town for further schooling. But I never forgot to meet her whenever I visited my village. The childish crush had eventually transformed into an everlasting friendship. I travelled a long distance in train, bus, rickshaw and horse-cart to attend her marriage.
She was terribly busy in the rituals of Hindu marriage. Once I was passing by her room when she called me. She was sitting alone clad in chiffon sari bearing random patches of turmeric paste. She appeared like a finely chiselled marble statue. Her hands and feet were spotlessly neat as they used to be in the childhood. I sat down at a decent distance from her.
‘How is your job?’ she asked concernedly.
‘Fine,’ I said.
‘How is your hubby?’ I asked.
‘He is pretty handsome. But I do not have much idea about other aspects. It is completely my parent’s choice. Once we met in person when both of our families got together in a temple at Patna. There we exchanged only a fleeting glance. That’s all,’ She said almost in one breath.
I was amazed at her sheer surrender to the sole decision of her parents even in the most personal affair of marriage. Anyway, soon a bunch of jolly young ladies attired in decorative clothes entered the room. And I came out.
At night, sitting on a red fibre chair, I patiently observed all the marriage rituals. Amid the tune emanated from ‘Shehnai’ my heart was filled with strange feelings. The atmosphere turned sentimental the moment her hairs were parted straight at the middle and a voluminous amount of vermillion was filled there. Tears welled up in the eyes of many present on the occasion.
In the natural light of the fine morning, while departing for her in-law’s house, she appeared bewitchingly beautiful. She was clad in a red silk sari embroidered with silver thread. A chunni with purple flowery imprint was draped down her shoulder. Several gold ornaments added charm to her beautiful face. A pair of silver anklets tinkled as she moved to hug all family members and relatives. Her eyes had turned moist. I stood at the door when she stopped near me.
‘I have to go now. Take care,’ she said placing her right hand on my shoulder.‘
God bless…and you too take care,’ I replied looking at her.
Next moment, I slid the gift, which I had brought for her, into her Mehandi designed hand. Then I waved goodbye. My eyes followed the vehicle carrying her till it faded into horizon…!