“Dhanu…. Dhanu, can you take Manu with you? She is not leaving me cook anything” my wife called from kitchen.
I and my wife both work in a MNC. My parents live with us. Usually my mother cooks for everyone. Since we got a row of holidays, my parents have gone to grandparents’ house in the far costal city. That made my dear wife to enter the kitchen after a long time.
I don’t know how the food may taste. Because it’s been ages since she cooked last time. I told her we can order something from outside but she insisted on cooking today reasoning that she may forget the art of cooking if she does not practice it once in a while. And today is her practise day.
I got up from the warm sofa where I laid watching football match and went into kitchen to find my two year old darling daughter Manu, playing with utensils on the floor. I carried her back to sofa. The gentle pats I gave her on back soon made her to fall asleep.
I wonder why I named my daughter after that girl. The one who unexpectedly entered my childhood, unknowingly became a memory of adult hood and continued to remain in my manhood.
Manaswi Shankar, and her family of four-she, her parents and a younger sister moved to our grandparent’s house on the top floor for rent in one of the summer. I was in class 4th then. She was in her 10th. She was friendly and sensitive & soon became a favourite of all the kids in the neighbrhood. The walks in the evening, the country games we played -lagori, chinnata with friends and cousins, those summer mornings that went busy watching horror movies with her, playing cards. Those became a routine of all the summer vacation of my school life.
Even though I had my own sister with me, Manaswi was much closer and warmer in way more than a sister as she matched a 4th standards mind. Not that it means she was mentally retarded or something. She was a kind of non-nerdy-smart- fellow with a percentage of 97% in her tenth boards.
But the way she mingled with us- kids was amazing. She was always open to childishness and the silly games we played. Her mother used to shout at her to behave like a 16 year girl but that’s how she was. Jumping the walls, playing cricket, watching horror and action movies.
I never really thought her as a girl or someone elder to me. But years by years as I grew, the attraction I had towards her was growing. In the beginning I used to address her as sister which I eventually stopped as we both got older.
My 9th standard summer holidays went busy with coaching and tuitions for the 10th boards. I was growing impatient within. I could not conclude what for. The entire year passed without seeing her. I was desperate to go to my grandparents’ house.
The summer after my 10th boards was a phase of changes. I was proud I had become taller than her. Much stronger. The thin line of hair below my nose assured me of my manliness. I found myself looking into mirror again and again. I was a man!
Once in my grandparents’ house, the first thing I always did was to climb the stairs to her house but this time I dint want go finding her by myself. Though I badly wanted to see her for no particular reason, I needed to know if she cared enough to come looking for me.
She did come asking for me that evening.
“Hi Dhanu…” was her usual welcoming note. She gave me a shake hand. I took her hand and it was the first ever mistake I did as a man. Because the shock I got through her touch was the high intensity electric waves combined with the magnetic waves (or whatever! I am not that good in science) that I had managed to mug up weeks before the boards. My involuntary or voluntary, autonomous or whichever nervous system was totally disorganised. That was new. That was different.
It was the time of confusion and thoughtless actions. The more confused I was the more beautiful she became. She was then in her final semester of degree and she dint even get a centimetre longer than she was before. She looked the exact same copy of previous year with the same 4th standard’s smile on her “small rat face”. Yet strangely appeared very beautiful than before.
She seemed to take no notice of anything happening inside me. Everything with her was same. Her warm smiles, gentle pats on my head, sweet voice, the child laughs… the change was within me.
That holidays were the sparkiest days of my life. Each time I made an excuse to touch her, the sparks would ignite inside. The half-forgotten theories of internal and external combustion engines, petrol & diesel engine danced in my dreams trying to relate the sparks her touch gave me.
I was on the self-exploring project. I was experimenting myself. The nearness of her gave me a madness that made me sing in my showers, dance in rain, and hit boundaries for all the balls of an over.
I was too half hearted to go back and join PU college back in my city after the holidays. But it was just half. Another half of me practically made a point of the enjoyments I get in college life.
The college life was absolutely a colourful one. Mine came in so many shades of colours. The fun, friends, movies, late night parties, road trips, mass bunks, fights, football, cricket, new bike, new taste at big restaurants, girls and crushes, last minute studies were a new bunch of experiences.
I dint see her once I joined the college. In house I even made an excuse about not going to grandparents’ house that year for I wanted to spend the time with friends. Especially helping some of my stupid friends with proposing their crushes, Getting chased by the girl’s brothers, consoling our heart broken friends and finding them a new match. In between them I didn’t remember her or I was a fool to think so.
In the middle of my second year pre university, I saw a decent change in me. I was hit by a sudden enlightenment of my future and carrier. I became more profound and mature. All the fun of one and half a year came to a halt. I started worrying what I was. I sat day and night studying for the finals and other entrance exams.
The more and more I slid into silence, the more I found my true self. I was amazed to find I dint miss any fun or girls or movies. But what I missed was her-Manaswi. I was pushed into the pool of questions. Where was she all these days? Why didn’t she come in my thoughts?
Suddenly I started missing her. I remember crying that whole night. I knew she was there within me. Only I was unable to remove the screen off her. I welcomed her back.
From that moment she became my imaginary supporter who encouraged me to work hard, a friend who helped get refreshed after long hours of studies, a soul mate who gave me a dream to fulfil.
Days passed, exams were over. I finally landed in my favourite spot on earth-grandparents’ house. I threw away all my male ego and ran to her house. Her mother told me she was up on terrace studying. I literally flew to terrace taking 2 steps at a time.
When I saw her, time got slowed down, air became thin and cool, the brightness around increased and the entire weather became romantic. I was going crazy. I should have known I was not the same old 4th standard baby but a taller, much stronger with a 6 pack abs male. But I dint care. I ran to her, took the notes from her hand, threw it aside and hugged her tight. May be I held her too tight that I heard her gasp for air. The touch of her body on mine was not just a shock. I felt like a power station. Her head reached my chest and I thought we were perfect in that way.
“I can’t breathe” she gently pushed me away.
“Hi…” I said.
“Hi Dhanu…” she replied a moment later recovering from a sudden surprise.
Then she saw me as if I was someone new. Yes! I had changed a lot in those two years. I was much taller, my cuteness was now handsomeness, and I had purposefully wore a tight shirt that showcased my worked out muscles.
It was probably hard for her to believe I changed so much but I wish I had told her I was her same old admirer with a cover of love on it.
Those times after my pre university were critical. There were many things going on in my mind. I was waiting for my results of various entrances. She was busy with her project submission of her master degree and finals, I could not get to see her much. I could not jump on her like I did as a kid. I had to be careful enough not to make any elder suspect me.
I was very unsure about what I was going to do. I longed for her, I wanted her, I needed her.- But in what ways?-was the question. As a friend? Or as a lover? Or as a wife?
She was elder to me by 6 or 7 years. Her age didn’t matter to me. I was sure Manaswi was not someone to worry about it either. But it would do for my family. I had made a list of famous celebrities whose wives are elder to them or whose husbands were younger to them, in case if the age matter did come as an obstacle.
I was careful enough not to touch her like I did before. I dint want to do any self-exploring experiments this time and give her bad impression of me. I was sure of my direction but unsure of my destiny.
There were sleepless nights where I longed for her nearness. I had imagined myself to be with her in every possible way and that made me more restless. The nights pulled the time to forever and many a times I had to supress the urge to get into her room form the balcony. I wanted to feel her, touch her and say she was mine forever.
The mornings were little hopeful as I could get a glimpse of her when she came to dry their clothes, to dry her hair after the bath. Once my father caught me watching her as I stood dazzled by her beauty. The tiny drops that fell off from her wet hair, the sunshine on her pitch black hair that appeared like a black silk. Her eyes seemed lost in thoughts as her hands struggled through her hair to separate the strands. My father had just smiled at me and asked me to come inside for the breakfast.
The evening time were the only opportunities to meet her. She would come down to spend some time in our garden. I dint want to make it obvious that I stand on my toes to see her. So I came up with different reasons to come out of the house to garden. I was surprised by my own talent in acting and reasoning. I had never thought my brain works all that well. But it did for her.
Soon after her masters she was offered with a training in a research centre in the state’s capital. I still had some days left for the announcement of my entrance exams. I was coming up with so many ideas that ideally suited my further education, carrier, and desire to be with her.
At last my major step towards my dream came true. I was selected to one of the good colleges in the state’s capital. I joined the college hostel. Though her paying guest room was an hour journey for my hostel, it didn’t look much of a struggle to visit her daily. My mother called her up and asked her to take care of me and help me like her brother. I was really angry on my mother that day. That’s how a typical Indian mind set is. If someone is elder to you, then they automatically become your brother, sister, uncle, aunty, grandpa or granny.
After three days of my new college, I had called her to help me find some good places for shopping’s. She readily agreed to my request. That evening with her was the most beautiful of all the previous dates I had in Pre University. It was not a date I knew. But for me it was much more exciting than that. She seemed to have no clue of my intentions.
First we went to the temple that was near to where she stayed. She slipped while climbing the stairs and with a sudden reflex I caught her by her waist. It was not purposeful yet I was damn happy it happened that way. I thanked my fate for giving me such life time opportunity to be near my first love in a city where no one objected our relationship.
My time in Degree College was more matured. I was not the same old Dhanush who stood in corridors waiting to whistle on girls passing by or flirting with female students. I found a new Dhanush who worshipped his childhood attraction- his first love.
Manaswi is a girl of spontaneity. She seemed happier to have me there- in a distant city from her home. She called me up sometimes to go out. We walked hands in hands. I don’t know what it meant to her, but that was definitely an improvement. Wasn’t it why I chose to join the college in that far city?
There were no places that went without us visiting there. I took her to pubs and clubs which were new to her. She smoked and drank wines which were her high school fantasy. I felt contended I was a part of her happiness. She was the best thing I ever imagined to happen to me. The feelings she gave me was priceless. It never once occurred to me I was the younger as she always had that innocence of a primary school kid. She never felt tired of exploring newness. She kept me amused by her attitude.
I wasn’t even bothered to go home during semester holidays. I joined some internship or trainings or workshops just as a reason to stay there. Occasionally she would ask me if I had any crushes in my college and I would feel the urge to tell her my one sided love to her & that I want to make it two sided. But I would then keep shut not in fear of telling her but in fear of losing her.
I was known to be the cool guy or a love guru in my old college. I used to give countless suggestions on love. But when it came to deciding what to gift her on her birthday, I had to spend the entire weak in the researching.
Finally I decided confess her. I was not sure if her birthday was appropriate for that. I either had to take our friendship to next level or had to break it completely. But somewhere inside I was confident that she loved me too. May not be with the same intensity as I do but at least little more than just friends.
I had confessed her on the banks of the river that passes the city. It was a quiet place that had been found by our seniors in college or that’s how they said. How can I ever forget those expressions in her eyes? What was it? I am not still able to resolve the puzzle her face showed.
She accepted my gift. She opened the gift rapper to find a silver ring. She wore it in front of me without speaking a single word. What did it mean? Was it like she accepted my proposal? Or did she accept it for the sake of our long-time friendship?
I was expecting her to shout at me, or tell me it was not correct or at least slap me. But she did nothing but remained silent. I waited for her reactions but she kept staring at the flowing river. After some minutes she got up ready to leave.
“Manu…” I held her hands to stop walking.
She did stop and turned to me. Searched my eyes and kissed my cheeks. Only a person who receives a kiss from his first love can ever understand what it feels. Words are just insufficient to describe it.
We walked in silence back to my bike. And drove in silence. She had her hands around my waists holding me tight. I dint think it would end that easily. I was actually prepared for the next set of days of convincing her. But it was easy. I felt difficulty in keeping my eyes straight as the tears of happiness filled them.
When I dropped her near her paying guest building, I saw her in tears too. Words seemed like a weak medium to express anything. I could read her eyes… they said she loved me too.
She turned and walked towards her PG. I don’t know why I did that but I ran to her and kissed her in front of the gate. The night sky with lakhs of stars appeared to wish us the life time wishes. We saw a shooting stars and I closed my eyes to make a wish like my sister used to do.
I felt a soft kiss on my cheek and when I opened my eyes she was running on the stairs to her room….
It’s been 10 years now and I still could not get over my first love. I didn’t have the smallest clue that it was the last time I would ever see her when she was running to her room that day. I still can feel the exact moments that had happened a decade ago.
I never saw her again after that. Since the week after her birthday she dint answer my phone calls or texts. I thought she needed some times to work on her thoughts as my confession was such a sudden surprise. But that was not the case. When I went to her PG, I found she had moved out. I had called my grandparents to know if she went to her house. But the answer I got were the most heart breaking. They had left the house 4 days back when Manaswi suddenly went there. They had given “family problems” as reasons to their sudden decision of leaving the place.
I was in despair. How could she just disappear like that? What was that supposed to mean? If it was really family problem she could have told me or was it that she really needed to run away like that? If she dint like me she could have told that or did she love me enough to not to get me in any troubles because of our age differences?
She was not certainly my first crush. But she was my first love and she will always be my first love. I tried to find her but in vain. Though she has gone out of my sight to an unknown address, my love has never let her go out of my heart. She is still inside me as my guide and a friend.
What hurt me even today is -she loved me. But the same typical mind set of hers, regardless of her knowledge, education, gold medals, and expertancy in her field and more of all her love, didn’t let her fight for us. To fight for our love. I pity her in that way. Wherever she is now, I pray for her happiness. I hope she is living a happy life out there with someone who loves her…
A pair hands hugged me from back pulling me back from my occasional numbness.
“Thinking of Manaswi?” my wife Aarathi asked me.
I smiled and pulled her to my front. She looked beautiful with wheat powder smeared on her apron.
“Yeah…but not as much as i think of you” it was not a lie though.
Aarathi is my childhood friend.She fell in love with me the way I fell for Manaswi. I know the taste of first love. For someone like me it’s bitter and for some like Aarathi, it’s sweet. Aarathi joined the same degree college as mine as my junior. I was too busy with my own self and Manaswi that I dint even notice Aarathi’s love for me. She helped me get out of the bitterness that surrounded after Manaswi was gone. I cannot imagine what I would be like if Aarathi would not be there. She became my soulmate. She made me laugh again when I dint even want to smile. She walked with me in my bad days. Though it took time eventually I fell in love with her and got married.
Today my first love is a memory that I cherish. I remember Manaswi Shankar with no regrets. She is someone who brings back my childhood days and a smile on my lips…
“Breakfast is ready” Aarathi said.
I nodded as I lifted my daughter Manaswi from the sofa and walked with Aarathi towards the dining table.