Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A FEEL GOOD ROMANCE - An Old Fashioned Love Story

A FEEL GOOD ROMANCE
AN OLD FASHIONED LOVE STORY
Short Fiction
By  
VIKRAM KARVE
From my Creative Writing Archives:  
Here is an updated and abridged version of a longish Fiction Short Story I wrote sometime in the 1990s almost 20 years ago  A Feel Good Romance  An Old Fashioned Love Story. 
It made me feel good when I wrote it. 
I am sure it will make you feel good too when you read it...!
Do comment and let me know if you liked the story
I AM FEELING GOOD – an old fashioned love story by Vikram Karve
I felt good. 
My eyes feasted on the snow-clad Himalayan Mountain peaks painted honey-gold by the first rays of sunlight.

Behind me, deep down, was the resplendent Doon valley.

I breathed in slowly, mouth and nose together, relishing the pure, cold, nourishing mountain air.

I felt on top of the world, literally and figuratively, as I stood high in the middle of nowhere on a refreshingly cold bright morning, undecided what I was going to do, or where I was going to go.

What greater freedom than not having anything to do or anywhere to go!

I felt I was flying like a bird in the sky, with no one to take my freedom away.

“Something exciting is going to happen today,” said a tingling sensation within me, as if I were on the top of a high roller-coaster ready to plunge into unknown depths.

Suddenly, at the spur of the moment I decided to visit Victor, and with a spring in my step started walking towards Landour.

“Who’s Piyu ?” I asked Victor, picking up and opening the book lying on the bedside table.

“Piyu?” Victor said, his voice feigning ignorance but his eyes gave him away.

“Yes. Piyu! It’s written here in this book‘ To my darling Victor, with fond memories of those wonderful moments at Port Blair. Love Piyu ' And Wow! Look at the lovely cursive feminine handwriting. So delicate. If her handwriting is so beautiful, she must be really gorgeous. A real beauty! Tell me. Who is she?” I asked teasingly.

“Shalini, you should not pry into others’ private matters,” Victor said.

“Private? This is no personal diary. It is a book called ‘Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov’. I am taking it with me to read.”

“No,” Victor shouted and started to move his wheelchair towards me.

I know I had touched a raw nerve.

“I’m sorry,” I said and gave him the book.

He opened it and stared at Piyu’s handwriting.

“I thought there were no secrets between us,” I said.

“There aren’t,” he said.

“Except Piyu?”

“Please Shalu…….”

“You want to tell me about her?”

“Okay,” Victor said. And then he told me. About Piyu. And him. And their days in Port Blair. Maybe not everything. But whatever he wanted to tell me, he told me.

“Piyu ? A funny name?” I said.

“That’s what I called her. Like you call me Victor.”

I left it at that and said, “Now there are no secrets between us?”

“No! Now there are no secrets between us!” Victor said and gave me the book, “Read it, Shalu. There’s a story called ‘The Darling’. You are just like the heroine. Always trying to mother me.”

“That’s because you are a naughty boy,” I teased.

“Naughty boy? I’m almost an old man. You should play with girls of your own age.”

“Play? You think I’m a small kid to play Barbie Doll? And you’re not that old either. You are just thirty.”

“I am twice your age.”

“Girls mature faster,” I said. “And your mental age is the same as mine.”

“Come on. You’re just a kid compared to me. I am a man of the world with a lot of experiences.”

“Like Piyu ………” I bit my tongue and said, “I’m sorry.”

“Piyu is a closed chapter,” Victor said.

“I’ve forgotten her,” I said “Piyu will never come between us again.”

“Promise?”

“I Promise.”

“Shalu, why don’t you come to meet me more often?” Victor asked.

“I don’t want to disturb you too much,” I replied.

“Disturb me?” he smiled. “It is impossible to disturb me. You see, I never do anything. Every day is a holiday for me, from morning to night, from the moment I get up to the moment I sleep, there is nothing to do, nothing to look forward to...”

“Don’t speak like that,” I said.

“Okay. But please come more often, Shalu. You make me feel good.”

“You too make me feel good!” I said.

It was true.

Talking to someone who needs comforting seems to make one’s own troubles go away.

“I’ll come on Wednesday. We’ve got a holiday,” I said.

“Promise?”

“Yes. We’ll discuss Anton Chekhov,” I said holding up the book.

“The Darling?”

“The Darling!” I said.

“Okay. Bye. Take care,” he said and lovingly looked at me as I began to walk away.

Victor had come into my life on a cold and rainy evening just a few months back.

I had slipped and fractured my leg playing basketball. It was a simple fracture.

Victor was convalescing from a severe injury to both his legs. His was a complex case, and for months he was confined to a wheelchair not knowing whether or when he would be able to walk again.

Actually, his name wasn’t Victor  he was Vivek – but everyone called him Victor, so I too started calling him Victor.

At first I called him Victor uncle. But as our friendship grew, somewhere on the way, the ‘uncle’ dropped. And now there were no secrets between us.

On Tuesday evening I rushed to see Victor bunking the self-study period.

“A clandestine visit,” I joked.

“Better be careful, Shalu. If your warden finds out, she may think something.”

“Let her,” I said, “I came to tell you I won’t be coming tomorrow.”

“Oh, no! I was looking forward to discussing Anton Chekhov with you.”

“Daddy is coming to Dehradun for some urgent work. He wants me to meet him at the station. He rang up the Principal for permission.”

“That’s great. I’m dying to meet your Dad. Make sure you bring him up here to Mussoorie.”

“I’ll try,” I said.

“You must. I want to ask him for your hand,” he said, tongue-in-cheek.

“How cute,” I said coyly.

“I’ll miss you,” he said.

“Take care.”

“You too take care. Okay Bye,” I said and rushed back to my hostel.

On Wednesday morning I left Mussoorie at six by the first bus and reached Dehradun railway station just in time for the express from Delhi which steamed in at eight.

Daddy was the first to get down from the AC coach and the moment he saw me his face lit up and he gave me a tight warm hug and smothered my cheeks with kisses.

“Please Papa,” I said embarrassed, “People are looking.”

“I feel so good when I see you, Shalu,” he said.

Papa kept the bag he was holding next to me and said, “Look after this. I’ll get the rest of the luggage.”

He beckoned to a porter and went back into the coach.

“Rest of the luggage?” I wondered.

Normally Papa travelled light, with just one bag.”

Soon there were three bags, a basket and a tall young woman with a small child in her arms standing beside Papa.

“Shalu, this is Ms. Bhattacharya. We travelled together from Delhi,” Papa introduced the woman, who smiled a sweet hello, and we began following the porter to the exit.

I looked at the woman through the corner of my eye. She was a real beauty, fair, with a skin like smooth cream. She looked straight ahead, as if looking at a distant object, and walked on expressionless.

But I noticed the way my Papa stole glances at her when he thought I wasn’t looking and I knew that she was much more than a mere fellow passenger.

I felt a tingle of excitement. Something was brewing. Maybe Papa was falling in love. Ten years after mummy had gone.

My father walked with a spring in his step, pulling his stomach in and thrusting his chest out.

“You seem very happy, Papa,” I said mischievously.

“Yes. Yes.” he said, “I’m so happy to see you, Shalu. You look so good.”

He opened the door of the taxi and looked at her, trying to mask the undisguised love in his eyes. It seemed a desperate case of thunderbolt.

I decided to have a bit of fun, quickly got in the car, and said, “Thanks, Papa, for treating me like a lady.”

Then I looked at the woman and said, “Bye Auntie."

“Auntie is coming with us,” Papa said, “Shalu, you sit in front.”

“It’s okay, I’ll sit in front,” Ms. Bhattacharya said.

“There’s place for all of us at the back,” I said. “We can keep the basket in front next to the driver.”

I shifted, she sat next to me with the baby on her lap, Papa next to her on the other side and we drove in silence through Palton Bazar towards Rajpur road.

I kept quiet, waiting for Papa to tell me everything, but he too remained silent, probably because of the driver.

He got off outside an office and said, “You two can go to the guest house and freshen up. I’ll join you after finishing my work.

We sat alone at the breakfast table. The baby was sleeping inside. I looked at Ms. Bhattacharya. She looked so elegant yet youthful.

Late twenties? Maybe! Or maybe a bit younger.

I was dying to ask her everything, wondering what to say, when she looked into my eyes and spoke softly, “Shalu, I want to be your mother.”

I was touched by the way she phrased it.

I can’t begin to describe the emotions I felt, but instinctively I blurted out, “Why didn’t Papa tell me?”

She touched my hand and said, “He felt shy, embarrassed. You know how he is. He wanted me to tell you. And leave the decision to you.” She paused, and said; “I know it’s difficult for you. I promise we’ll do what you want. But try to understand. Your Papa feels very lonely.”

“And you?” I asked.

“I am lonely too,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes.

Suddenly she started to cry into her handkerchief, “I’m sorry,” she said, got up, and went into her room.

I sat confused.

She had been so calm and composed. And suddenly she broke down.

Had I said something wrong?

Maybe I was too young to understand. All I wanted was that Papa should be happy, everyone should be happy; even she should be happy.

Ms. Bhattacharya came out of the room. She had washed up, done up her face and looked so beautiful, so vulnerable, that I instantly felt like hugging her.

Something inside told me that she would make Papa very happy. And me too!

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just that sometimes you wait for a moment and when it comes you don’t know what to do with it.”

 “I like you,” I said. “I know you’ll make Papa happy. Only I wish Papa had told me. Shall I call you mummy?”

She smiled, “Come on Shalini. Be my friend. Call me Priya.”

“Okay,” I held out my hand, “Priya, let’s be friends. And you call me Shalu.”

“Shalu, actually even I wanted your Papa to tell you,” she said.

“He must’ve been embarrassed.”

“Embarrassed?”

“To tell me that he’s fallen in love at his age.”

“He’s only 43.”

“And you, Priya?”

“28. Oh come on, I shouldn’t be telling you my age.”

“You look 25,” I said.

She blushed. The baby cried. She went inside.

I went into my room and lay on the bed. What a day! I just couldn’t wait to tell Victor all this. He’d die laughing. Maybe I should marry him. We are so happy together. If Papa can marry Priya, why can’t I marry Victor?

They – 43 and 28 – Adult Love!

We – 15 and 30 – Puppy Love?

It’s not fair, isn’t it?

I drifted into sleep.

When I woke up, Papa was sitting beside me on the bed.

“It’s past one,” he said. “Let’s go for lunch.”

“Why didn’t you tell me, Papa?” I asked.

His cheeks, his ears became red. He avoided my eyes.

“I guessed it the moment I saw you two at the station,” I said.

“You’ve really grown up, Shalu,” Papa said. “I’m so happy you have accepted her and your little brother.”

“Brother?” I said dumbstruck, and slowly comprehension dawned on me. I closed my eyes. All sorts of thoughts entered my brains. And suddenly everything was clear. “Oh yes. My little brother.”

Lunch passed off in a trance and soon we were on our way to Mussoorie. I’d wanted to go alone by bus, but Papa wouldn’t hear of it. He had work at the site office near Mussoorie and Priya wanted to see my school. She hadn’t been to Mussoorie before.

It was almost five when Papa got off at the site office and we were cruising on the Mall on the way to my school. Priya was looking out of the window as if searching for something. Suddenly she asked the driver to stop.

“I have to get something. Please look after the baby for a moment,” she said.

I took the baby in my lap and saw her enter Hackman’s, the biggest departmental store in Mussoorie.

She returned fast. “A small gift for you, Shalu” she said giving me a gift-wrapped packet and an envelope containing a greeting card.

I opened the envelope. It was a ‘Thank-you’ card.

She had written a message on the inside of the card:  “…To my darling daughter and friend, Shalini…”

I kept on starting at the beautiful handwriting, unable to read further.

Instantly, I recognized the same unique familiar lovely cursive handwriting, so feminine, so delicate.

Tremors started reverberating in my stomach, like a roller coaster. My pulse was racing. The car negotiated the steep road past Picture Palace up the winding slopes of Landour.

“Priya, look,” I said pointing out of the car window, “that’s the oldest building in Mussoorie. It’s called Mullingar. Isn’t it just like the Cellular Jail?”

“Yes,” she said.

“You’ve seen Cellular Jail?” I asked.

“Of course,” she said. “Many times.”

“You’ve been to Port Blair?” I persisted.

“Yes. I’ve lived there. It’s a lovely place,” she said.

“How lucky,” I said. “I’ve only seen pictures of Cellular Jail.”

Silence. Pregnant silence.

Then I spoke, looking at her child seated on her lap, “Baby. He’s so cute. How old is he?”

“Six months,” she said.

“You haven’t named him?

“Oh yes,” she said, “we call him Baby, his real name is Vivek.”

“Vivek?”

“Yes. Vivek ,” she said “It’s a nice name, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I answered.

I patted the driver on the shoulder and said, “Seedha Le Chalo. Jaldi. Drive fast. To Landour Hospital.”

“Hospital?” Priya asked flabbergasted.

“I want you to meet someone,” I said.

The car stopped outside the hospital. “Come,” I said, and Priya holding her baby in her arms followed me towards the door of Victor’s room.

I opened the door and said, “Come Piyu. Go right in. Your Victor is waiting for you, for both of you.”

I didn’t wait to see the expression on her face.

I quickly turned and ran to the car and shouted to the driver, “Driver – jaldi karo. Be quick. Take me to the site office. Fast.”

As the car descended down the steep slopes of Landour, past Char-Dukan, towards Picture Palace at the end of the Mall, I took out Anton Chekhov’s book from my purse.

I’ll have plenty of time to read it now.

Maybe I’ll keep it as a souvenir to remember Victor.

I opened the book, read on the first page: “To my darling Victor…Love. Piyu.”

I took out my cell-phone and sent an SMS to Victor: Happy Reunion!

Then I turned the pages of the book and began reading Anton Chekhov’s enthralling short story The Darling.

As I write this I am feeling good.

Yes, I am feeling good.

Don’t ask me why.

Happiness goes when you speak of it.

VIKRAM KARVE
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Disclaimer:
All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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