Sunday, December 25, 2011

MERRY CHRISTMAS


My Favourite Short Stories Part 79
MERRY CHRISTMAS
A Short Story
By
VIKRAM KARVE

Here is a story  I wrote a few years ago...

Have you ever seen a handsome strapping young man reading a Mills & Boon Romance? And that too so blatantly in front of so many people in a crowded railway compartment?

I did. On the Deccan Queen. Yes, on the Deccan Queen – my favourite train that takes you from Mumbai to Pune every evening. And back from Pune to Mumbai in the morning.

Let me tell you about it.

But first I’ll tell you about myself.

My name is Priya. I am twelve years old and I’m a pretty girl. I love train journeys and I have travelled a lot, especially on the Mumbai Pune route. But this was the first time I was travelling alone. So my loving father, who dotes on me since I am the only thing he has in this world, was very very anxious and worried.

My father had come to see me off at Mumbai’s magnificent CST Railway Terminus. He seemed uneasy and kept on saying the same things again and again, “Priya, take care. Don’t get down at any station. It’s only a three-hour journey. She’ll come to pick you up at Pune. I’ve told her your coach and seat number. And I’ve told uncle here to look after you.”

‘Uncle’ was a young man of about twenty-five on the seat next to mine. He was very handsome, well-groomed, smartly dressed in a light blue T-shirt and trendy Jeans. 25...? Maybe slightly older – but certainly not 30...!

 He had a smart elegant beard. A proper well-kept full-grown beard, not the repulsive dirty-looking horrible two-day designer stubble young men sport nowadays. They think the filthy hideous stubble on their face looks fashionable, but let me tell you it looks sick and makes me feel like puking. But this guy had a gorgeous beard – it suited his face perfectly and made him look very handsome and manly.

“Don’t you worry, sir,” he said to my father, “she’ll be delivered safe and sound.”

He gave me a friendly smile.

I liked him and felt happy to have him as a companion. And of course, I had the window seat in case he turned out to be a bore.

Now my father was talking to the train-conductor, probably telling him the same things to look after me and all that. I felt embarrassed but I didn’t say anything for I knew my father loved me very much and genuinely cared for me. After all, as I told you, we have no one else in this world except each other. I felt worried about him too.

That’s why when he kissed me on the cheek just before the train started, I whispered in his ear, “Papa, don’t drink too much.”

I knew how much he hated to be lonely, and now I wouldn’t be there to look after him, to take care of him, to mother him!

The train moved.

I looked at my watch. Ten minutes past five. Right on the dot. Soon the mighty Deccan Queen was speeding towards Pune. We would be there by dinner-time.

I looked at ‘uncle’ – just a sideways glance. But he did not notice me as he had already buried himself in the pages of the Mumbai Mid-Day newspaper.

I took out my iPod from my bag, adjusted the earphones in my ears and looked at him again. He was still buried in his newspaper, totally oblivious of the world around him.

I pressed my earphones tighter and tried to hear the music from my iPod, pretended to ignore him, made pretence of trying to look out of the tinted-glass window of the air-conditioned chair car. But my eyes kept wandering, trying to steal a glance at him when I thought he wouldn’t notice, but secretly hoping he would notice me and say something, talk to me. But he remained glued to his newspaper as if I just did not exist!

How mean and snobbish? It seemed he had no manners! I hated him and decided to ignore him.

After some time the young man next to me folded his newspaper and kept it in the rack in front of him. Then he pulled out his bag from below his seat, opened the zip, took out a book from his bag and kept it on his knees in front of him.

It was a ‘Mills & Boon’ romance! I smiled to myself. This young man seemed to be quite an interesting character. Young men in their twenties don’t read Mills & Boon. Or do they? You tell me. Anyway, he opened the Mills & Boon and started reading intently.

I know it is bad manners to disturb someone who is reading, but I was so curious to know more about him that I just could not resist.

I shut the iPod, pulled earphones out of my ears, and said, “Hello, uncle. I’m Priya.”

“Oh yes! I know. Priya. Age 12.”

“How…?” I asked surprised.

“I read the reservation chart,” he said.

“No. No. Papa must have told you my name,” I said.

“But he didn’t tell me your age, young lady,” he smiled mischievously and said, “Whenever I begin a train journey I always find out who my fellow-passengers are.”

“You a detective or something?”

“No, No!” he said smiling, “I’m a Shippie. A Chief Officer in the Merchant Navy.”

He held out his hand, "Girish Joshi. And don’t call me uncle. Call me Girish – just Girish.”

We shook hands. His grip was firm and strong. Robust. Reassuring. Redoubtable. Just like he looked.

The Mills & Boon paperback fell off. He picked it up and put it back on his knees. It really seemed funny – a solid macho man like him reading a mushy Mills and Boon romance.

“You been to Pune before?” he asked me.

“Oh yes,” I said. “We lived in Pune before we came to Mumbai.”

“Then you can help me out,” he said. “Do you know a place called Vaishali? It is a famous restaurant, I think.”

“You don’t know Vaishali?” I asked surprised.

“No,” he said. “It’s the first time I’m going to Pune. But she told me it was a famous place and I would find it easily. That’s what she told me!”

“She?”

“The person I have an appointment with. 10 o’clock tomorrow morning. She promised she would be there.”

“At Vaishali?”

“Yes,” he said. “She told me that the Dosa at Vaishali is even better than the one at Shompen.”

“Shompen?”

“It’s the best restaurant in Port Blair. That’s where we met for the first time.”

“Port Blair! That’s where you met her, is it?” I asked. This was getting very interesting.

“Yes. Last Year. We were sailing from Singapore to Mumbai and docked en-route at Port Blair for some emergency repairs. It was just a short stay of four days.”

I love to talk to someone who loves to talk. And this was like a fairy tale. It was getting exciting and I wanted to ask him so many things. Who was she? What was her name? Was it love at first sight? What happened? About the Mills & Boon on his lap?

But before I could speak, he suddenly said,” Hey! Why am I telling you all this? It’s supposed to be secret.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I won’t tell anyone.”

“Now you tell me about yourself, Priya. Why are you going to Pune?” he asked.

“To see my new mother,” I blurted out, without thinking.

And then like a stupid fool I told him everything. I knew I was making a mistake but he was so easy to talk to that my words just came tumbling out... my mother’s sudden death... my father sinking into depression… his drinking problem… everyone advising him to remarry… his refusal… just for my sake… and then this proposal and my father insisting that I see her first and we like each other.

Everything – I told him everything; and it made me feel good.

“You mean your father hasn’t even met her?” Girish asked.

“No. He hasn’t… we haven't even seen her. Papa has only spoken to her on the phone. Some relatives and friends of Papa are arranging the whole thing,” I said. “Papa’s worried. He loves me so much. He wants me to like her first.”

I could not speak any longer. Tears had welled up in my eyes. For some time there was silence. I felt very embarrassed at having told everything to a complete stranger. But strangely after telling him everything I felt good too.

I wiped my tears and nose with my handkerchief and said, “I am sorry, uncle.”

“Uncle? Hey come on. I’m not that old. Call me Girish. I told you, didn’t I? And don’t worry. Everything will work out.”

“For you too,” I said.

“I hope so,” he said. I am making it to this appointment with great difficulty – I made it almost by a hair’s breadth. I signed off my ship in Perth yesterday evening and managed to reach Mumbai just a few hours ago. And here I am on this train to Pune. She told me if I didn’t keep my appointment with her tomorrow, she’d go ahead and marry someone else.”

“So romantic,” I said. “Just like in the movie …”

“An Affair to Remember?”

“No. Some Hindi Movie… I don’t remember the name,” I said. “You must be dying to meet her, isn’t it?”

“Of course I’m dying to meet her,” he said. “It’s been almost an year since we said goodbye to each other at Port Blair. While parting we promised each other that we would meet tomorrow – the 25th of December this year at 10 a.m. at Vaishali restaurant in Pune.”

“Why the 25th of December?”

“We met for the first time on the 25th of December last year. On Christmas Day. And yes, it’s her birthday!”

“But you must have kept in touch – emailed – surely spoken on the phone.”

“No. She didn’t give me her address. I searched for her on the net, the networking sites too. No luck. She was in Port Blair on a holiday. And me? Well I’ve been sailing since. She said if I really loved her I would come.”  He paused, picked up the Mills & Boon romance book from his lap and said, “The only thing she gave me was this.”

“Can I see it?”

“No. You are too small for Mills & Boon.”

He kept the book in the plastic book-rack in front of his seat, turned to me and said, “Hey, Priya. Why don’t you come to Vaishali tomorrow at ten? We’ll celebrate her birthday together and have a Christmas brunch. And then I’ll propose to her. If she agrees, we all we go some other place to celebrate and have a hearty Christmas Lunch.”

“But you haven’t even told me her name.”

“You’ll find out tomorrow,” he said, “and suppose she doesn’t come, I’ll be heartbroken. Then you can console me. But I’m sure she will be there at Vaishali waiting for me. She promised. Whatever her decision, she said she won’t ditch me. She’ll definitely be there for our rendezvous.”

I looked out of the tinted-glass window. The sun was about to set. Outside it was getting dark. Inside it was cold.

The Deccan Queen slowed down. It was Karjat, the station in the foothills just before the mighty Sahyadri Mountains .

I turned to Girish and said, “Let’s get down. You get yummy batata-vadas here.”

“Your father...”

“Please?”

“Okay.”

We strolled on the platform eating the delicious batata-vadas with the lip-smacking chutney, and suddenly Girish said, “I’m nervous. I hope everything works out well.”

“Me too,” I said. “Papa needs someone. But he’s so worried for me… I wonder whether I’ll like her or not. And she too must like me.”

“Of course, she will like you. You will like each other. I’m sure things will be fine. Everything will work out for the better, for you, and also for me. Why don’t you bring her also to Vaishali tomorrow morning along with you? And we will all celebrate together!” he said.

“I’ll try.”

“You must.”

“Okay. If I like her, I’ll bring her with me.”

“But you must come.”

“I will,” I said. “Like a kabab-me-haddi.”

We laughed and got inside the train. Pushed by three banker engines the Deccan Queen began its climb up the steep Western Ghats .

“Hi, Girish!” an excited voice spoke from above.

I looked up. Another young bearded man. But this was a boisterous type.

“Oh, Hi Sanjiv. What are you doing here?” Girish said getting up form his seat.

“Going to Lonavala,” the man named Sanjiv answered.

 “Lonavala?”

“I’ve bought a cottage in Lonavala. A sort of farmhouse. Why don’t you come and see it?”

“No, No,” Girish said, “I’ve got an important appointment in Pune.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow morning. At ten.”

“And where are you going to spend the night?”

“I don’t know. Maybe some hotel or someplace.”

“Why don’t you spend the night with me in my bungalow in Lonavala? I’ve got a bottle of Single Malt and we’ve got so much to talk. If you want we can go out someplace. Come on let’s celebrate Christmas Eve together. I’ll drop you first thing in the morning in time for your appointment. It’s only an hour’s drive to Pune. In any case I have to go to Pune tomorrow to meet some relatives. I’ll drop wherever you want – don’t say no.”

I could sense that Girish wanted to go, so I said, “It’s okay. I’ll manage. She is definitely coming to pick me up.”

Sanjiv looked at me in a curious manner, so Girish said, “This is Priya, my co-passenger. I promised her father I’d deliver her safely to Pune.”

“Hi, young lady,” Sanjiv said. “Girish and I are batchmates and shipmates. We’re meeting after a long time.”

I knew that both of them were dying to talk to each other and have a good time, so I said to Girish, “You get down at Lonavala. I promise I’ll look after myself. I’ve got my mobile with me and I’ve got her number also. I’ll ring up my Papa the moment I reach Pune.”

I insisted that I would be okay, and egged on by Sanjiv, a hesitant Girish got down at Lonavala, but not before we exchanged each other’s mobile numbers and he requested the lady across the aisle to look after me.

It was only after the train left Lonavala on its final leg to Pune that I noticed that Girish had forgotten to take his ‘Mills and Boon’ romance paperback.

I took out the book from the rack and opened it.

On the first page was written in beautiful cursive handwriting:

To My Dear Girish,
In remembrance of the lovely time we had together in Port Blair.
Snehal
PS – Remember, there is a thin line between pity and love.

As I looked at the message something started happening within me. Snehal? Same Shenal? It couldn’t be? Or could it be?

Snehal. A loving person. That’s what the name Snehal means. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Is Snehal a common name? Maybe. It's possible. Maybe there are many Snehals in Pune.

The Deccan Queen is rushing towards Pune. There will be a Snehal waiting for me at Pune Railway Station. A Snehal I am going to meet for the fisrt time. The Snehal my father wants to be my new mother.

And do you know, what is the first thing I am going to ask her? I am going to ask her which is the best restaurant in Port Blair. And whatever her answer, I am going to take her to Vaishali restaurant on Fergusson College Road at ten o’clock tomorrow morning.

And I'm dying to see the expression on her face, and Girish's too, when they see each other at the rendezvous.

I will not return the Mills & Boon romance book to Girish. I will keep it for myself. I want to read it on my journey back from Pune to Mumbai by the Deccan Queen.

And then I'll tell my Papa all about the delightful journey on the Deccan Queen and the lovey-dovey rendezvous in Vaishali and how we celebrated Christmas together.

Merry Christmas.

VIKRAM KARVE
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2011
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.


Did you like this story?
I am sure you will like the stories in my recently published book COCKTAIL comprising twenty seven short stories about relationships. To order the book please click the links below:
http://www.flipkart.com/cocktail-vikram-karve-short-stories-book-8191091844?affid=nme
http://www.indiaplaza.in/cocktail-vikram-karve/books/9788191091847.htm
http://www.apkpublishers.com/books/short-stories/cocktail-by-vikram-karve.html

COCKTAIL ebook
If you prefer reading ebooks on Kindle or your ebook reader, please order Cocktail E-book by clicking the link below:
AMAZON
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005MGERZ6
SMASHWORDS
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/87925

About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and he is currently working on his novel. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts. 


Vikram Karve Academic and Creative Writing Journal: http://karvediat.blogspot.com
Professional Profile Vikram Karve: http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve
Vikram Karve Facebook Page:  https://www.facebook.com/vikramkarve
Vikram Karve Creative Writing Blog: http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com/blog/posts.htm
Email: vikramkarve@sify.com        

© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
  

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