This short story is participating in Write Story from Picture India 2012 – Short Story Writing Competition.
O MISTRESS mine, where are you roaming? O stay and hear! your true-love’s coming
That can sing both high and low; Trip no further, pretty sweeting,
Journeys end in lovers’ meeting—
Every wise man’s son doth know.
What is love? ’tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter; What’s to come is still unsure: In delay there lies no plenty,—
Then come kiss me, Sweet-and-twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.
His attempt at singing ‘O MISTRESS mine’ out to her in his baritone and her crackling laughter thereafter seemed to fill the city of Palaces with glee. ’Raj, I’m sure the Bard would be very mad at you today, no matter where he is’, she coughed out.
They met for the fifth time near the gates of the Mysore Palace. Their love for literature, books, music and photography apart, they had little in common. ‘Who cares for your birth place, birth date or birth name, when all you need from life is someone you could share your dreams, your interests and your books with?’ he suddenly stared into her eyes, almost overpowering her with those hypnotic eyes and his dimpled smile. Two quick flashes and he had managed to accomplish an almost impossible feat. She loved clicking pictures herself, though hardly ever portraits, and a self-portrait was a complete no-go for her. Lovely long tresses, large, perfectly kohled eyes, and a smile, so enigmatic that she easily became a camera’s favorite. Raj’s camera was no different. ‘Not my photo Raj, you are wasting precious reel. Utilize them on these beautiful landscapes, cityscapes’. ‘You sure they are more beautiful?’. Ashta blushed yet again.
Date: 25th December 2005:
It was 1 p.m. on a bright Sunday and Ashta had just left for her first tour around the city. Drastically different from Mumbai, Mysore was a sight many Mumbaikars would crave for, at least initially. A couple of her friends, like her had got placed in IT companies in Mysore as well. Quickly they fixed a plan and decided to meet at the beautiful Mysore palace. Camera in one hand, and bag in the other, she was walking towards the gates when a bunch of hooligans came following her, passing snide remarks. Things turned ugly when she could actually catch hold of one of the pillion riders and flung him to the ground. They came charging at her and all she could then do was pray. It must have been very movie-like when Raj actually came to the rescue with his friends and managed to do away with the bullies. Ashta wept and wept profusely. ‘Ma’am this isn’t Mumbai. You need to take care. Now be strong and I can drop you home if you wouldn’t mind’. But Ashta would not stop. ‘They took away my camera’. ‘What? No regrets? No remorse? No thanks even? You are more worried about your camera?’ ‘Of course, it is my most cherished gift. I turned 21 you see? Dad got it from the states, this time that he went.’ And she flashed a beautiful smile.
‘I’m dropping you home. I insist’. She let him, and they talked for what seemed like a ages. ‘Here, look at this, do you like this? You can use it whenever you want’. ‘Damn it’s the same one!’ ‘Nah, this one’s mine, I earned it when I won the National Poetry contest.’ ‘You are a poet?’ ‘Not really, I am still a student. But I write and click and sing and all that.’ ‘Wow, you’re like me, thanks for the lift, Mr?’
‘Raj, but you can call me Romeo’ Miss Juliet’.
She blushed. And gladly she became his Juliet. Of course none of them acknowledged it.
Is love a light for me? A steady light,
A lamp within whose pallid pool I dream
Over old love-books? Or is it a gleam,
A lantern coming towards me from afar
Down a dark mountain? Is my love a star?
Ah me!- so high above so coldly bright!
The fire dances. Is my love a fire
Leaping down the twilight muddy and bold?
Nay, I’d be frightened of him. I’m too cold
She would often read out, thinking of all the lovely things the stranger who now meant so much to her, would discuss. Tennyson, Wordsworth, Browning, Frost, who was the greatest of them all? Portrait, landscape, which was the best form of art? Strange relationship, or simple arranged marriage which was easier of the two?
She completed her training and was about to leave for Mumbai. She never committed to meet him. ‘ Someday, I know we would meet. Someday, I know you would realize what I realize today. Someday, I would click the best picture of our lives. And that someday would come, because I believe in my faith’ She asked her to be more direct, maybe even she yearned to hear the words, but was she sure of her own feelings? Maybe not, maybe not yet.
And she left. Weeks turned to months and months to a year and Ashta could’nt get over the special stranger. All this time, she had expected him to call her, mail her, and message her. He hadn’t. She was sure she was crying over spilt milk. She made an attempt to forget him. It was out of question. May be it really was love, but what did she know about him? She finally decided to call him one day.
‘Home they brought her warrior dead:
She nor swooned, nor uttered cry:
All her maidens, watching, said,
‘She must weep or she will die.’
She loved Tennyson, but hearing this poem on his calling machine was not really what she wanted.
She took out her new SLR camera and placed it on the tripod.
She wept for the longest time and decided to move on. Clicking pictures could help but forgetting him wasn’t an easy task after almost 1 year of wait. So she called and called again. Again the same poem! She almost hated Tennyson for having penned down this poem. She thought of Raj’s last words. Was he hinting at something? May be!
Date: 25th December 2006:
She hoped against hope to find him there. And there she was, in Mysore, at the gates of the palace. Morning turned into afternoon, and afternoon to evening. He was obviously not hinting at meeting her there. She felt dejected and vowed to stop the emotional turmoil once and for all.
Out of your whole life give but a moment!
All of your life that has gone before,
All to come after it, — so you ignore,
So you make perfect the present, condense,
In a rapture of rage, for perfection’s endowment,
Thought and feeling and soul and sense,
Merged in a moment which gives me at last
You around me for once, you beneath me, above me —
Me, sure that, despite of time future, time past,
This tick of life-time’s one moment you love me!
How long such suspension may linger? Ah, Sweet,
The moment eternal — just that and no more —
When ecstasy’s utmost we clutch at the core,
While cheeks burn, arms open, eyes shut, and lips meet!
It was the same voice! She turned around and there he was! Raj with flowers in his hand and his new SLR camera. He clicked and clicked again. Didn’t I tell you, ‘Someday, I would click the best picture of our lives? Seeing you like this – with love overflowing from your beautiful eyes’ There you are- my Juliet. They hugged and took a beautiful picture together – the most beautiful one.
They are happily married. But the photo still remains hanging in their hall.