“Hello?…Hi. Yes, I’m going to Singapore for office related work. I’ll be back in two weeks, we’ll meet then, bye.”
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport T2, Mumbai, 8 p.m.,
Passing through the security and the glass sliding door, the first step I took inside the Airport gave me a feeling that I have left India already. The high rhomboid honeycomb-like pillars expanding to the ceiling, spacious structure, beautifully lit environment and subtle music in the background; it was like I have stepped in one of the Wonders of the World. But then again, I might be exaggerating here since I haven’t seen any of the seven wonders with my own eyes. This happens to me every time, whenever I enter Mumbai’s International Airport I am mesmerized by its beauty. I spend the whole time, while I am there, admiring its architecture. There is nothing else that can distract me or stop me from looking up at the ceiling, nothing until that day.
A big fat suitcase on the trolley and a carry bag on top of it, I positioned them properly and then I pushed the handle to roll my luggage to the ticket counter I am to collect my ticket. “Please fill the form and tag the bags.” said the guy handing me those tag things as he stood at the beginning of the queue to the ticket counter.
I did what was asked for and then waited for the queue to slide forward, sluggishly as it was at the moment since only one counter was active. It was a long queue in zig-zag formation with 3-4 turns and slithered like a snake made up of people and their luggage. I am not of the ogling type but one of the passengers standing ahead in the queue caught my attention, a girl standing with her two bags in a trolley, probably alone who had oddly familiar face.
“Who is she?” I thought, “…and why do I feel like I know her.” I could not remember ever talking to her and yet it was like I had seen her a lot. “School friend? Classmate? Someone from my previous neighborhood?” I was unable to remember since it has been years that I moved to a new location. Also there weren’t any old school memories of mine that were worth treasuring. Me being a self conscious person, to avoid other strangers judging me, I looked at this girl trying to remember but then I looked away at regular intervals.
All this time she was standing steady while reading a novel she had in hand. My eye sight isn’t that clear so I couldn’t read the title in small font but I presumed it to be of romance genre based on its pink-red cover. At the moment she was lost in the story while subconsciously sliding ahead as the queue moved. There was an old lady, standing behind her, who taped on her shoulder to get her attention. She turned and both smiled looking at each other and initiated a conversation. Clearly they were strangers and yet in an instant they were talking as if they know each other.
I was unable to hear what they were saying so I was curious to know, “What could possibly be the topic which can make two strangers get this interested in the conversation?” And then she did something, something familiar. Keeping her left foot firm on ground, she moved her right shoulder forward, raising her right foot up until just her toe was on the ground and then extended her right arm to midway in space between them she snapped her fingers pointing at her with a smile. That’s when it hit me, throwing my mind in past, 16 years ago.
Same style, same thing she did in front of me 16 years ago. But the difference then, there was a glass separating us, a curved convex glass that formed a part of a CRT (Cathode Ray Tube). “Yes!” I said to myself when it finally struck. “I remember now.” I had seen her on the Television, not once but many times. She was one of the famous child actors of the time. She had her own TV show for children, “That’s Gili from the TV show ‘Aasmaa Se Giri.’” She played a role of a fallen angel who lived among humans bringing joy to their lives with her optimistic cheerful attitude and obsession to help needy people. One of the people whom she made happy was me. Because of my father’s profession, my parents and I, we had to move from place to place. In my school years I changed homes 4 times. Every time, new house, new neighbors, new school, new friends; whenever at any new place I had to start bonding with people from scratch. The only constant in these many variables was the Television and the Shows that aired at that time. A piece of technology referred to as ‘idiot box’ was the only thing that stayed loyal to me. It introduced me with a character that was dear to my heart at that time, Gili, an angel indeed.
Those weren’t the days in India when you could simply download TV shows and watch it again. I used to remember the episodes scene-by-scene and re-watch it even when the TV was off. Bringing back those rusty memories from the old archives of my brain, I started watching the show, then and there. But the queue moved forward and it was time for me to pick my ticket, “Mine’s 55B, what number did she get.” I said to myself.
The moment had passed and the odds were that though travelling in same plane, I would never even see her. So I moved on to Immigration and other procedures. Being done with those boring formalities now all that had remained was me to kill time until boarding. In the waiting area, I had to make a few calls before I left ground and so it didn’t occur to me to look for ‘Gili’. Keeping probability aside, luck was in my favour as the moment I walked in the airplane I saw her, Sakshi Day, once a popular child actor, now, apparently not so much.
Approaching her, made me smile as I looked at the ticket. She was eyeing at the window seat and mine was just adjacent to it. I walked towards her slowly as one would approach a butterfly to avoid scaring it off. Bad example! I hate bugs. Now that I am relatively closer to her and there aren’t many people obstructing my view, I saw her clearly. Her hair was black and long surpassing her shoulders, just as usual but loose unlike she used to maintain as a child on TV. She was wearing, I’m not good at describing dresses, something actress Rani Mukharjee wore in the in that starting airport scene of the movie Hum Tum. Probably she chose to wear this dress on purpose.
“Excuse me Ma’am, can I help you?” an Air Hostess caught her attention. In response Gili flashed her ticket. So far my experience with the Air Hostesses have not been good and that was another mental cursing moment as she pointed Gili to be seated in the direct far opposite to where I was supposed to sit. “Thank you, god.” I said, sarcastically looking up, as she used to do in the TV show when things didn’t go her way. At that moment I too was in a similar situation as my flight of fantasy crashed before even the airplane could take off. There was nothing I could do and so as usual, disappointed with the lack of someone interesting in adjacent seat, I went and took mine.
The plane took off and then once in air I turned ON the display to look for a movie to watch. It took me a while to search as there were none that I haven’t watched before. Next to me, oddly the window seat was empty. “A passenger didn’t board the plane in the last moment?” I thought to myself. I didn’t choose to sit by the window because of experience. If you are a low tone introvert like me and you sit by the window, the Air Hostess tends to ignore you. It happened a couple of times with me and I didn’t want to experience the same again. All aboard had a normal dinner and then lights were turned off later. Turning off the display screen in front of me I switched to music while I prepared to take a nap.
“Excuse me, can I sit here? …Oh! Sorry I didn’t realize you were asleep.”
A female voice from a person standing next to the seat asked me this question. She had soft-sweet voice. Familiar, I thought as I turned to look, my eyes widened. It was her.
“Sorry to bother you but it’s my first time on a flight and I hoped for a window seat. Sadly I didn’t get it, but as I see the one next to you is empty…”
It was a long sentence for a sleepy mind of mine to process and so I replied with just sound, “Huh!”
“Can I sit here?” she repeated. Acknowledging her request I took my legs closer sitting upright and I made the path clear for her to pass by and sit. A fallen angel Gili sitting next to me, it was like a dream come true but at that moment I didn’t give it much thought.
I love sleeping and dreaming. I’ve written poems ‘Sleep-the thing dearest to me.’ So I really get annoyed when someone disturbs me during my REM cycles, irrespective of who he or she is. Still I’m too polite to yell at someone. I simply let her pass and went back to sleep. A couple of hours later I woke up. Adjacent to me, still, was the TV star Sakshi. She was lost in some thought looking outside the sealed glass window. I stood up and went to the bathroom.
“Seats aren’t as good as are beds for a good sleep.” I said to myself washing my face. It took another couple of splashes of water for me to realize that I actually have an opportunity to talk to a person I adored as a child, Gili. “I must have been having hell of a dream for me to pass over the opportunity to talk to her. Sadly, I don’t remember the dream.” I said to myself in the washroom, “I still have chance, another hour before we land.”
Back to the seat, people were still asleep, so I sat down quietly and then, “Hi.” I whispered drawing her attention.
“Hello.” She replied.
“Sorry. I was sleepy back then, had a couple of long sleepless nights.” I said.
“Not a problem.” She gave a faint smile before turning back to the window.
“You know, your face looks familiar but I am unable to remember where I saw you…” I pretended to think. With a slight mischievous smile she interrupted my sentence trying to outsmart me. “Somewhere on TV perhaps?” she stared hoping to catch my move.
“No …Somewhere else.” I replied getting back at her. “Are you by any chance S… S… Sakshi?”
Her eyes widened thinking she caught my game until I spoke, “Super Sakshi.”
Any normal fan of her’s would think it is just a nickname given to her by the TV show actors. But the name had deeper mean, she had to think for a few seconds before she realized the message I was trying to convey. For a brief period of one year Sakshi and I were in same school, being of almost same age we both were in 9th Grade.
“You were in my school. How don’t I know you then?” She asked with a smile. She was getting comfortable in the conversation as she realized that she wasn’t talking to some crazy fanatic.
“Same Grade but different class divisions.” I said, “Also, back then you were the popular girl and I… was invisible.”
She chuckled and then spoke, “You mean I’m not popular, now?” And she stared awaiting my answer. I knew the answer but sure as hell I wasn’t going to say it. I simply smiled in return moving to the next topic.
We were having a great conversation until time came for the plane to land. The indoor lights were turned ON illuminating the whole area and the seat-belt sign was lit. While I continued to talk we both wore the seat-belts. There were a couple of Air Hostesses passing by to check if everyone were at their seat. One of them stood right by me saying,
“Sir, Put on your seat-belt.” She spoke politely.
“I am. I’ve already done it.” I said.
“Sir, Put on your seat-belt.” She repeated, this time a little louder.
I didn’t understand her intention. “What?” I was confused as she repeated the same, this time placing her hand on my shoulder.
“Put on your seat belt, sir.” repeated the Air Hostess. Looking at her big scary eyes I did as she asked.
It took me a couple of seconds to return to my senses and realize that, it too was a dream, I was asleep. The seat next to me was empty and Gili aka Sakshi Day was sitting at the same place she was in the beginning of the flight. None of it happened at all. It was just a false reassuring dream which I couldn’t accomplish in reality.
“These many hours in the same room and I couldn’t say a single word to her.” I cursed myself with regret. History repeats as I did the same for that one academic year.
The plane landed with a jerk followed by controlled vibrations and then it moved close to the airport building for people to get down. All the passengers stood up too eager to leave and so did Gili. People were in a rush but I just stood there waiting for her to pass by. She was still holding that pink cover book in one hand while a loose handbag in the other. Walking sideways as she tried to get on the walkway, the book slipped from her hand and fell. Instantly I bent to retrieve the book and gave it to her.
“Thanks.” She said giving me her unique smile as she used to do in the show, a smile not so wide but with visible teeth. With that just one look she was done and walked away. A few seconds later as the number of people reduced I picked my bag to leave just to find a piece of card tucked between my bag and the seat.
It was a handmade bookmark , it belonged to her since her named was on it writing golden glitter pen. ‘Sakshi Darling… my Gili.’ Picking it up, I walked to the exit.
On the way outside I said to myself, “A thank you, a smile and a souvenir I can treasure for life. I’ll call it a win.”
I felt the soft velvet fabric of red and green on my fingers while remembering the moment I had with her. “ I’ll keep this piece safe and every time I touch it, it would feel as if I am in contact with her… My Gili.” It was wrong and creepy to think that way. But at that moment I was a boy resurfacing in a man’s body.
Continuing with the same train of thought, I stepped outside the plane. I wasn’t looking anywhere; I didn’t even notice the crew thanking me for choosing their airlines.
“Oh good! You have it.” A voice called me from behind before the bookmark got pulled out of my hand with a force. I turned to see it was still her, Gili.
“Thank you.” She said, “I thought I lost it.”
I heard what she said, another thank you. I wanted to say something in return but then I kept looking the way she was handling the bookmark as it was her baby. “Sorry. This might look weird. This bookmark is very close to my heart. My aunt gave it to me before she passed away. I was clumsy enough to drop it but thanks to you, I am reunited with this piece of treasure of mine.” She said with a smile, looking at me.
“That’s it, this is your chance.” I shouted at myself but the then, “The moment has passed.” Said another voice in my head as I simply smiled and walked away from her. Then walking towards exit, I put on the headphones dangling from my shirt’s collar and played the song; the title track of a then famous children TV show, which I downloaded a few minutes before leaving Mumbai.
“…doston ko saath laane, dushmano ko apnaa banaane,
Duniya ko pyar-se sajaane, aasma se giri, Gili.” (HINDI)
“The story was supposed to end here but it seems, thankfully it doesn’t.” I said, taking my laptop from her hands as she was done reading my story.
“Good thing I approached and initiated the conversation when I saw you yesterday in the restaurant.” she said, “Else you would have ended up writing yet another inconclusive sad fantasy story.”