Today we were sitting on the bench outside the Family Court in Mumbai, waiting for our call. Falguni had filed a divorce petition against me on the ground of extramarital affairs on my part.
It was hot and humid with the corridors filled with litigants of various types, all looking for justice.
Falguni was seeking justice too, now after five years of our marriage.
I was surprised to find that lawyers had advised her this ground of divorce. Did she not know me before we married? Did she not know about the women in my life during my college days? She fell in love with me with all my faults. But after our marriage if some of those women still kept in touch with me, wanted me, it could not be said that I had indulged in extramarital affairs bringing mental cruelty in our marriage. This was of course my view.
Arrival of this day would sound unwarranted if the story of my romance in the background of my personality, be told. It was an interesting tale.
That day in April about half a decade ago, I remember vividly, I was in the Coffee house busy with Rukshana. The coffee in our cups was untouched, getting cold, but we both were happily oblivious of that. I was looking at her eyes, unblinking and her gaze was on me. I was also holding her hand. During that misty pink haze, Tina came in. I had not noticed her. I should have known that she was not a lady to be ignored like this, not when Rukshana was around.
Setting down her purse on the table with some force, Tina cleared her throat audibly and said “Excuse me… can I say something?” Did I detect a touch of annoyance in her voice? She would be, I thought, as she fancied herself to be my long term girlfriend; I always made her feel as a special person.
I hastily removed my hand from Rukshana’s and turned my eyes towards Tina, a smile on my face, although I felt irritated at this sudden intrusion.
“For your kind information…” Tina’s voice was dripping with sugary syrup, “ You promised to meet me one hour earlier in the College Library but you seem to be so busy that you forget everything, even your coffee has become cold. You need to order fresh hot coffee …” She turned around to search for the waiter.
I frowned as if I had really forgotten about my promise; but the fact was that I was in no mood to keep my rendezvous with Tina; I was more interested in Rukshana. But that couldn’t be uttered. So I said with a sad look on my face, “Very very sorry Tina… my mistake again, please reach the Library, I will be there in next half an hour.” She walked out of the Coffee house in a huff.
To keep peace I had to apologize to Rukshana and we parted company soon thereafter. I was not too happy since I wanted her at that time.
Next day in the college, we were introduced to a new girl in the class. It was the beginning of a new academic session. Before I could get her name I became mesmerized by her appearance. The most striking feature was complexion; I didn’t seem to remember seeing such fairness. That her name was Bhumika registered in my mind a little later. By then I had decided to introduce myself to her after the classes. She seemed to be a person with whom I could have a long relationship.
That evening, I was talking to my friends. A sense of pride was surging through me as during the day I had befriended Bhumika and she had agreed to go to a movie with me during the weekend. This was a great achievement which everybody readily agreed.
Talking about accomplishments, I could add a few more; I was a brilliant student in the College, a successful footballer representing my institution for the past two seasons, a sought after rock – singer and a ruggedly handsome man; if I might modestly say so. But perhaps my image as a Casanova preceded all other qualities.
The morning of the succeeding day I was in a contemplative mood since I had realized that my preparations were not progressing as I would have wanted. It was the final year of my graduation. I well understood my top grade academic performances in the past and the need to repeat that.
I came out of the Botany class and started walking through the long corridor of the College building.
Walking towards me from a distance in that passageway, I saw a girl in blue “salwar kameej” with her hair tied severely in a bun and dark rimmed glasses. She had average complexion and height with a slim built. As she came near it was apparent that her face was exceedingly pretty with classic features of large beautiful eyes, aquiline nose and curved lips. She had minimal make up.
I have had affairs with many women in the past, but this lady stirred emotions in me as nobody had till now. And this had happened only in a few minutes; amazing! I just stared as she turned left into another class. I was not sure whether she noticed me or not among many students in the corridor, but I was sure that I would have to get to know her soon.
That chance came sooner than expected as we happened to get introduced to each other through a common friend in the college canteen, the same day.
She was Falguni.
She was different from other ladies whom I knew in the College. Painfully shy and given to few words, she was to me an enigma. I was not used to that. Being gregarious myself, I always sought friends, whether male or female, to be matching me in my attitude. But then this completely different nature of Falguni seemed to attract me immensely. But could I reveal that feeling so early in our acquaintance, although I had the reputation to do just that?
That Thursday, about a month later during which period I met her occasionally, more out of chance than by any design, she came into my class. The room was empty. I was sitting there trying to understand a particularly complex piece of botanical hypothesis. My thought process had to proceed unhindered.
Falguni walked towards the desk at which I was sitting. I looked up at her with some surprise; her visit was the last thing I had expected.
She said, “Sorry to bother you Rupam, but I need your help. Is it possible?”
Looking at her I could make out that she was earnest. Knowing her nature, it was also obvious that she was serious. Suddenly I felt a faint palpitation in my heart and my mouth turned dry in some nervousness. It was strange; I was not a person to be afflicted by such reactions, at least not on seeing any woman. But this lady was different.
“Yes, what do you want….?” I managed to say.
She had some doubts in Botany which we discussed in detail. With some pride I could say that my understanding of the subject was exemplary. Many of my friends did take my help on a regular basis.
About an hour later we were through and gathering our books and notes to come out of the empty class.
“How about a cup of coffee in the canteen? “ I asked. She hesitated for a second before agreeing; I was sure that my help, a little while ago, must have had a salutary effect in her mind.
In the canteen, after bringing two cups of cappuccino and placing on the table, I settled down comfortably. There was no immediate chore for me to attend. And her company was making me feel good. It was anybody’s guess how she was feeling, if at all.
We were sipping coffee and discussing Botany when she asked all of a sudden, “Are you planning to marry soon after the final exams? “ She was looking at me intently; her lovely eyes without eye liners were partly hidden behind her glasses. Taken aback a bit I recovered and said with a chuckle, “Most of us will marry sometime….”
I didn’t want to give any direct reply.
She leaned forward, her shapely lips, which were devoid of any lipstick, curled with a hint of a smile, “Who will be the lucky girl? Tina, Rukshana or Bhumika… ? Or is there any other about whom we don’t know yet? “
I managed to blush, my face must have had shown my embarrassment ; looking sideways at her I said, “It seems that my reputation as a womanizer is playing on your mind…”
Now it was her turn to be chagrined, “ No…. no… that’s not what I meant.”
We changed the topic, but I could make out that the subject was playing in her mind. Why? Did she have any interest in my affairs with other women? What was her true feeling? It was very difficult to understand women and their thoughts, but I was sure that she wouldn’t have any inkling about my feelings and attractions for her. Or was I wrong?
Some months later we were toiling with our final examinations. My preparations were average but I really didn’t bother; my attempt was, anyway, up to my standards. If the results were to be in the same lines as my earlier ones, I should be topping the chart. But there was always a slip between the cup and the lip. In any case I would know the results a month later. Meanwhile I would have to plan for my further studies.
In the interim it was relaxation time.
That evening I had a gala time with my friends in the most happening restaurant in the town. With food and drinks in abundance and everybody letting their hair down, the time passed in a jiffy. There was only one hitch in my happiness; Falguni was the only absentee in the party.
Next day morning I called her,“Why didn’t you come to the party last evening, we… rather I particularly missed you.” She remained silent for a few moments, then said, “I was not well… had a severe headache.”
I pondered a bit, “Hope you are better now,” then slightly pausing asked, “Can we meet for lunch at the “Girnaar” restaurant today at 12.30 p.m.?” She remained quiet for so long that I thought she had not heard me, then with an almost inaudible voice said, “Sure”.
An hour later Falguni called me, this time her voice was more assured and clear. “Rupam, instead of going to a Restaurant, can’t you come to my house today for dinner? My mother has gone out of town, but I am sure I can make something palatable for you to eat.”
This was pleasantly unexpected and I readily agreed. She then gave me the direction to reach her house.
It was past nightfall when I reached her house.
She opened the door and stepped aside. As my eyes rested on her I stared. Her appearance had undergone a metamorphosis. Sans her glasses, with open silky hair, eyeliner enhancing her large eyes, a touch of pink on her shapely lips, wearing light pink sari and matching blouse, she looked dazzling, and, she knew it.
With a smile she escorted me into her drawing room. It was large with cream colored walls, brick red curtains, cushiony sofa sets, a glass circular center table with other assorted furniture including thick brown carpet and knick – knacks; all complimenting each other and defining the decor of the room. The concealed lighting enhanced its image and the AC created a cool atmosphere. I felt that all these made the atmosphere very romantic.
Looking around I said appreciatively, “You have a nice drawing room, Falguni.”
She nodded, made me comfortable and went in to get something to drink.
Keeping the glass of fresh apple juice on the table, she sat down on the other side of the sofa where I was sitting.
I said, “Well, your invitation is totally out of the blue and if I may say so… you are looking so beautiful… I have never seen you like this before.”
She looked down at her hands and silently acknowledged with a suggestion of a smile. “It was so good of you to have come.”
I glanced around, “ I know your mother is not in… I don’t see anybody else. “
“ Tonight there is nobody except me … I am your hostess”.
Again that feeling of breathless nervousness was returning to me; this woman was really different in my eyes. I had to admit that she was so special… and why not? She was my first real love!
Seeing me quiet and thinking, she said, “Everything OK…. Rupam?”
“Yes… yes.” I took hold of my feelings and tried to start a topic. I wanted to know what her plans were after the declaration of results. We discussed the pros and cons of various career options. Almost half an hour had elapsed when she said, “I will lay your dinner.”
As she was about to get up, abruptly the entire house plunged into darkness. The street lights too shut down. There was a load shedding which was usual at this time of summer season.
This sudden arrival of pitch darkness was not unexpected. Her voice was audible, “I will get the candles. Our standby supply has gone bad… I will need some light. My mobile is not here… do you have a torch in your mobile?”
But a passing thought struck me. Why has the standby electricity supply in her house gone bad?
Anyway, I hastily switched on my mobile light and stood up to guide her. She too got up and started to move inside the house; I followed her to illuminate the way. She walked into her kitchen and opened a drawer to take out the candles and a match box. I was standing near her.
As I was waiting, watching her… my heart beat accelerated. Her closeness, a faint intoxicating aroma of her perfume, absence of any other person in the house, the darkness; all were inviting me to touch her, take her in my arms, kiss her…. But no! I might be a womanizer, this lady I would not touch or take any advantage! She was much too vulnerable… I would always protect her… Didn’t I love her?
She turned and walked into the drawing room. I followed her back.
After lighting the candles we sat down on the sofa again. She was a little nearer than last time. Her face had a soft look which I could make out even in the light and shade of the candle. Her eyes were on me… were they saying something?
I wiped the sweat on my face and picked up the glass containing apple juice and drank it at one go. She said, “Can I offer you some more? “ I shook my head.
We chatted on various subjects; surprisingly, we had many common interests and views. But my predominant thought was on her… was it the right time to tell her that I loved her?
The power supply came almost an hour later.
She again got up to serve dinner when I offered to help. We walked into the Kitchen and as my hand brushed against her, she stopped and looked at me.
Then, miraculously she took hold of my right hand; I could feel her soft and yielding palm; and pulled me near her… So near that her body was touching mine, her face was near me; she then touched her lips with mine. It sent a shiver through me as if it was my first experience.
I love you…! She whispered.
I didn’t know why, but my voice choked, “But why do you love me…? I am a Casanova… am a womanizer… I have a bad reputation among women in the College.”
I could say no more.
She again kissed me, a reassuring one, and said, “I don’t care what you are but I know you are right for me… You are the real man… mine. Or else you would have taken advantage of me now… but you didn’t. You love me, right? I know you love me !“
This was eternal happiness! And I was truthful for the first time with a lady, “Falguni… I love you too… I am crazy about you!”
But I had to clear my small doubt. I held her away for a moment and said, “Was the standby electricity supply of the house really not working?”
She hesitated, shaking her head, “ No, I had switched it off intentionally ! “
Well, she had taken my test, and, I seemed to have passed my most difficult examination…. that of love.
We had chosen each other that day, five years ago.
But today our love and marriage seemed to be in a disarray. I had failed in my life test.
The Court had pounced the judgment. Our divorce was granted. As we came out of the Court building she looked at me and said, “So now you are free to continue as a Casanova . All the best.”
She started to walk away when I said, “After I had married you I had given up my bad habits. But I could not convince you. At heart you know how much I love you! Will you please love me, once more? Is it too much to expect? “
I had unabashed tears in my eyes.
She didn’t reply. Neither she turned.
But hope was the elixir of life.
17TH SEPTEMBER 201