It was a bright chilly Monday morning. I was waiting for my bus at Nehru Nagar bus stand. Buses were coming, halting at the stand, loading and unloading passengers and then leaving for their respective routes. Buses viz 479, 460, 543 with so many others followed. There were buses for every possible route except the one I was heading for.
Frustration had already started to mount my patience. I first cursed myself for getting up late in the morning and then to DTC for their biased approach. To ease down my frustration, I took a casual survey of the surroundings.
There was a couple sitting on the bench, lying at the bus stand, watching something in a cell phone with curiosity. A woman who had her face covered with a white scarf was talking over the mobile. There were some animated and forlorn faces waiting to reach their desired destinations.
I was running an hour late and was feeling sad for the early demise of an ever awaited weekend. It was then I heard someone pronouncing, Panku, my nick name that my school friends used to call me with.
I turned my gaze towards the direction of voice and what I got to see was a fluffy figure with thick specs and protruding belly, the two prominent characteristics I first noticed about him. He was around 5 feet 7 inches. His hair was nicely combed with a left-aligned partition.
He was wearing a black jacket, blue T-shirt and loose faded jeans. He had a backpack hanging down his fat-stuffed shoulders. It was very difficult for me to recognize him at the first glance albeit his sky-bleached eyes peeping out of thick specs hinted some past connection.
He was approaching me with a big smile that made his cheeks look plumper. I went for a complete memory scan to find a face matching his details.
And finally I recognized him.
“Hey Fatso, is it you?” I announced.
Though his parents had named him Sid, all friends in school called him fatso and rightly so as he could eat three person’s meal in one go but could not run even 50 meters. I always pitied the guys who shared bench space with him. Anyways, it was a pleasant surprise at least for relieving my Monday blues for the moment.
“So you recognized me” he had almost crushed me in his arms.
“Of course, who can forget a masterpiece like you”, I tried to exchange the hug but my arms struggled to reach even his back.
“What are you doing here bro”, he asked putting his cheek muscles to rest.
“Going to office”, I took a sigh of relief and so did my bones for gaining freedom from his grip.
“What are you doing these days?” he enquired.
I don’t understand why our childhood friends are so interested in our income even when they meet us after so many years.
“I am a content writer”, I replied without much enthusiasm.
“Oh, so you finally become a writer. I am very happy for you.” he tried to sound excited.
I wanted to yell at him that there is nothing special about being a content writer. I am not writing any bestsellers. I am a mere content writer who writes low-grade articles and take home a meager salary. But, something inside me stopped me from doing that. Sometimes you are carried away by the glory of being something you aspire for.
“Hmmm”, the only word I could utter.
I stole a glimpse of the row of buses – red, green, orange, chartered, approaching the stand but unfortunately none of those brought any respite to my anxiety.
“You know I am an Area Sales Manager in Cipla and posted at Ambala. A team of 70 marketing professionals works under me” he said in such a loud voice that even passer-bys overheard him.
“I am in Delhi for a one week business tour” his eyes beamed with pride.
“That’s great,” I returned the favour by sounding even more excited.
It is always difficult to digest your friends’ success especially when you consider yourself a loser.
“Are you still in touch with other Navodians”
He used the word Navodians for our batchmates in Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, the place where we see ourselves promoting from childhood to adolescence during our journey from sixth to 12th standard. The school where we not only gained education but also witnessed and experienced so many colours of life including friendship, enmity, making and breaking of relationships, smiles, tears, love, hatred, along with some fulfilled and unfulfilled desires.
“Are you in touch in our school mates”, he repeated.
“Yeah, I know the whereabouts of a couple of those. Not many”, I replied reluctantly.
“Panku, If you don’t mind I wanted to ask you a question” his eyes got narrowed and he had a sad look on his face.
“Go ahead”, his seriousness infected me as well.
“Did you open out your heart to Siya.”
Something inside me broke on hearing that name, Siya, though I sounded uninterested.
“Naaah…leave it yaar. It is too late for all this now.” I said absorbing any possible traces of agony on my face.
“When are you leaving for Ambala?” I tried to change the topic.
“On coming Sunday” he informed.
“Great, let’s meet this Friday evening at my place. We have met after a long time. Let’s celebrate with a couple of drinks and some old memories!”
“Ok done!” he flashed a big smile.
We exchanged numbers, shared a goodbye hug and left for our destinations for the day.
The day past. The sun set. But the name didn’t left my brain even for a second. Siya. My first love and I lost myself somewhere down the memory lane.
“Hothon se choo lo tum mera geet amar kar do”, an old hindi number, she was singing when I have noticed her the very first time. Well, I don’t know if it was the magic of the song, her voice or her charm that made inroads to my heart.
It was the summers of year 1995, our first year in JNV. We were in sixth class. She was clad in a green printed salwar kameez. I always wonder how we boys tend to forget what we had in breakfast but boast a sharp memory when it comes to girls.
She was looking very beautiful. I don’t know if it is right for a sixth grade student to assess beauty. But she was beautiful at first glance and at every glance thereafter. In fact she remained to be the most beautiful girl in the class, school or even in world. I think every lover has to say the same about his first love.
The days past and I had almost forgot my meeting with Sid but only until Friday. I got a call from him on Friday evening. He was already on his way to my place. I’d reached home by then. I gave him the directions and went to a nearby liquor shop to buy a full of blender’s pride and some tandoori chicken.
He reached at our colony gate at around 9:00 pm. I escorted him to my room and then started the session of cocktails of drinks and talks of our school days.
As the drinks started to rule our senses, the conversation got more personal. It had now shifted from hostel, boys to girls and finally to the same question..the question about Siya.
“Had you expressed your love to Siya?” The same question I’d avoided on the day of our rendezvous.
“No”. It is the first time I’d talked about Siya in last 10 years though there had not been a single day when I’d not recalled the memories of her. Probably alcohol had done this.
“How could I tell her. It was you who’d told me that she didn’t love me. Didn’t you remember? Then, why are you pricking my heart with the same question over and over again.” I continued in a low but irritated tone.
“Because I wanted to know if you had believed me completely and never spoke to Siya after that.”
“Nhin bola bhai. How many times should I tell you this. You were my friend and I believed you.”
“Sorry Panku” Sid’s voice was remorsefully trembling.
“Is this the intoxication or some other reason”. My mind suddenly turned awake.
“Why are you sorry? If she didn’t love me what could you do”
“She loved you bhai. She loved you very much. I’d lied to you because I was jealous. I loved her too. The day you’d sent me with your love message, I’d actually proposed her but she refused my proposal and told me that she loved Pankaj. She loved you. I didn’t know why…probably because of the pain of heartbreak, I lied to her too. I told her that you didn’t love her. She broke down in front of me. Tears started to roll down her cheeks.” his eyes were wet.
“I am very sorry dear. I am your culprit. I am carrying this burden on my heart for last 10 years and God gave me the opportunity to apologize for my sins. Please forgive me. I separated two love-filled hearts. I am sorry.” tears rolled down his cheeks and fell into the glass of whisky creating ripples in it. I felt the same ripples inside my heart.
Something inside me had broken. I wished if I could reverse the wheel of time. I wanted to live that last of school again. I wanted to shout at Sid. I wanted him to repair things for me that he’d spoiled. I wanted to see Siya’s eyes who were filled with love for me. I wanted to cry at my helplessness.
I wanted Sid to rebuild my last 10 years of loneliness that spent mourning for my lost love. But I knew it was not possible. There is no use of even blaming Sid. I loved Siya so I should have the courage of expressing it to her rather than sending Sid to know her heart. It was my mistake and I deserved the punishment I got.
“Don’t feel bad bhai. It is all destiny. You can’t get who you don’t have in the lines of hand? God had already planned this. You were just the medium. Come on Yaar. Just chill. I don’t have any bad feelings for you” I said sympathetically to Sid.
He was happy as he got liberated from his long-time guilt. He patted me on my back and finished the final peg in one sip.
“You freed me from a heavy burden bro. You did it” Sid said in an intoxicating voice putting his empty glass down but he could not give glass a smooth landing as his trembling hands made the glass tumble down. He tried to lift it but this time his back collapsed and he landed flat on the bed. He lost his consciousness.
Everything finished at a happy note. Sid was happy and so did I. But there is something that left me grieved – a drop of water at the corner of my eye that dropped and lost somewhere in the blue printed bed sheet and so did the last remains of my first love.