Saturday, February 14, 2015

LOVE STORY FOR VALENTINE’S DAY

LOVE STORY FOR VALENTINE’S DAY

Long back – more than 25 years ago – in the 1980’s/1990’s – before the arrival of the internet – I wrote fiction short stories for magazines and supplements.

Sometimes – I was requested to write a special story for an occasion – like Valentine’s Day.

Frankly speaking – I don’t believe in celebrating “days” – and for me every day must be “celebrated” – carpe diem.

But today is Valentine’s Day – so for those romantic readers who are celebrating Valentine’s Day  let me delve deep into my creative writing archives and pull out this Valentine’s Day Story I wrote more than 20 years ago, in the 1990’s – and post it for you – suitably abridged – to make it easier to read online on a screen. 

It is a longish story  written at a time when there was no internet, no blogs, no ebooks, no online reading  but when you had to read magazines and books on paper for short fiction and when you had the time, the patience, and span of attention to read longish stories. 

So relax, take your time, and read this old style romance – and do tell me if you like it. 

VALENTINE’S DAY STORY
A Romance
By
VIKRAM KARVE

Vandana dragged me to the New Year’s Eve party at our Club. 

“I’d feel good,” she said. I’d been wallowing in my grief too long and it was high time I forgot the tragic events of my past and got on with my life. Besides, she could not go alone. Would I be good enough to escort her? 

The moment we entered, Vandana was whisked away to the dance-floor by one of those young desperate bachelors, who are present in every such party. 

I did not mind it at all. 

In fact, I felt relieved for I was in no mood to dance. 

I still had not forgotten the day when fate had cruelly snatched away my beloved Rajashree from my life. 

I picked up a glass of whisky from the bar and took up a strong tactical position with my back to the wall from where I could watch the entrance, the dance-floor, most of the hall and could see all the happenings at the ball in a discreet manner without being observed. 

I saw her almost at once. 

Her snow-white dress, unusual and eye-catching in the sea of sober blacks and grays, skin-tight, hip-hugging. 

She was only about ten feet away, but had her back to me, and I did no more than register a general approval. 

Then she turned, and I saw her face. 

And the impact was so overwhelming that I heard myself gasp! 

She turned further, and looked at me; her gaze focusing directly at me. 

And for just that fraction of a second I thought that it was all a bad dream  it was as if there was my very own Rajashree herself – standing right in front of me.

Yes – she looked exactly like Rajashree – the same big dancing eyes, set in the same way, in the same rather small face – the same high cheekbones – the same habit of lifting the chin with the head slightly thrown back. 

It was only for a fraction of a second, of course. 

Then I began to see the difference. 

She was slightly taller than Rajashree. 

The big eyes had no gray in them – not even a hint of the greenish gray – in fact, her eyes were pure brown. 

And her complexion – very similar – just that bit fairer – and the texture or her hair – wavy – almost identical – but just that slight difference. 

I was staring at her brazenly  with undisguised directness  maybe  even too rudely. 

At first she realized that I was looking at her. 

Then, she accepted the fact of being looked at. 

Finally, she began to look at me in return. 

Then she smiled at the frank admiration in my eyes. 

I must have been so engrossed marveling at the object of my attention that I hadn’t sensed Vandana come by my side silently  and she was curiously observing the goings on with interest. 

Embarrassed  I tried to change my focus  and I made a pretence of trying to look elsewhere.

“Dance over?” I asked. 

“That Pongo! He thought he was on a parade ground! Stepped on my toes. I walked out.” Vandana paused – and then she asked, “What were you upto?” 

“Nothing. Just having a drink.” 

“Vivek,” Vandana said.” You have got this delightful habit.” 

“What habit?” 

“You look at a woman in an insistent suggestive sort of way that is worth a hundred compliments.” 

“No,” I protested, blushing terribly. 

“Come on, Vivek,” Vandana said taking my arm. “I have seen you looking at me like that. Eyeing me blatantly, yearningly, almost hungrily. So many times. Giving me those canny looks when you thought I wasn’t noticing.” 

I felt ashamed. 

I felt ashamed of having eyed Vandana. 

And now I felt ashamed of having eyed that woman in the snow-white dress. 

I had stared at her – so openly –  so brazenly – as if I was in a trance. 

The beautiful woman in snow-white dress – Rajashree’s lookalike – she was still standing there. 

“Why don’t you ask her for a dance?” Vandana said. 

“Who?” I asked, trying to sound innocent. 

“You know who!” Vandana said, “Her! The object of your attention. Or rather the object of your affection. The woman in white!” 

“No,” I said. 

“Why not?” Vandana persisted. 

“I’m very sentimental, Vandana. I cry easily,” I said.

Then I paused for a moment, and said, “If she refuses me, I’ll be shattered.”

“But why should she refuse you, Vivek? It’s New Year’s Eve. And she has come here to dance.” Vandana asked. 

“I don’t know. I’m scared. I don’t have the guts to go and ask her.” 

“I think you’re really cute, Vivek. And you are handsome too. Okay – let’s us dance – forget her – think of me instead!” 

But I could not forget her – the woman in white – and Rajashree – my late beloved wife – and the striking similarity between the two. 

I cannot begin to describe my emotion as I danced with Vandana, with the woman in white mesmerizing me in my mind’s eye. 

But as we danced, I must have pulled Vandana close, my mind elsewhere. 

For when the lights went out to ring in the New Year, I found Vandana tightly embracing me – and kissing me passionately. 

I kissed her back – for who can resist a full-blooded embrace of a passionate woman in the prime of her life. 

On New Year’s day, I got up early in the morning, put on my track suit for my customary jog down to Sims Park. 

The air was so pure that I could easily discern that familiar fruity whiff of perfume even at a distance. 

It was her! 

The woman of my dreams! 

She was sporting Rajashree’s favourite perfume. 

Yes, it was the woman in white – now wearing jeans, jacket and black leather gloves – walking briskly down the slope in the direction of Coonoor.

I discreetly followed her – all the way down to the railway station. 

The morning passenger train to Ooty was already standing on the platform. 

She sat right in front, facing forward in the first car. 

I sat diagonally opposite, but way behind, in order to get a good view but remain undetected. 

She got down at Lovedale, the station just before Ooty. 

And as she walked across the platform I noticed several things which had not struck me the New Year’s Eve party. 

The resemblance to Rajashree was still startling. 

But she was younger than I had thought – may be 25, at the most 27 – whereas Rajashree had been 33 – one year ago – when the cruel hand of fate snatched her away from me. 

And now this woman who had come into my life so suddenly  was also walking away. 

I felt an instant urge to jump off the train and rush towards her  but I restrained myself. 

And suddenly the train started moving towards Ooty. 

When I returned home to Coonoor in the evening  I found Vandana waiting for me. 

She seemed livid. 

“Happy New Year!” I said. 

“I thought you wished me quite eloquently at the stroke of midnight!” Vandana said full of sarcasm.

Then she looked at me and said, “have you gone crazy? Gallivanting around whole day like a zombie. In your track suit?” 

I flushed in embarrassment. 

“It’s good she did not notice you,” Vandana said, “You almost jeopardized our mission.”

“Our mission?” I said incredulously. 

“I’ll explain,” Vandana said. 

“Have you put me under surveillance?” I asked angrily.

“You better pull up your socks, Vivek Mathur,” Vandana said patronizingly, “you didn’t even notice me sitting right behind you in the train.” 

I was stunned speechless.

Vandana had followed me in the train all the way to Ooty and I hadn’t even noticed. 

“And many mercies,” she added, as an after thought, “thank you for not getting down at Lovedale and making an ass yourself.” 

“She looks like Rajashree – my late wife,” I said sheepishly. 

“I know. That’s why we have chosen you for the assignment,” Vandana said matter-of-factly. 

“Assignment?” I asked, dumbfounded. 

“It’s time to return where you really belong, Vivek. Into the wilderness of mirrors,” Vandana said, softly taking my hand, “Isn’t one year is too long a time to be in mourning?” 

My profession is a solitary one, whose sine qua non is the power of anonymity. 

And that’s what we were checking out six days later on the 6th of January at five in the evening as I stood on MG Road in Bangalore watching her entering Gangaram’s – a three storeyed bookshop – one of my favorite bookstores. 

It was the crucial test of anonymity. 

If I passed  I got the assignment. 

Suppose she recognized me  it was curtains as far as this career was concerned. 

And then I would have no choice but to return to my boring teaching job. 

I entered, walked briskly up the steps, and stepped into the bookstore. 

There she was. 

Browsing. 

I went across and picked up a book. 

She looked up. 

Our eyes met. 

I felt a tremor of trepidation. 

For a moment I was anxious  lest she recognize me. 

But she nonchalantly put the book she was holding, back on the shelf. 

And then she casually walked away. 

No trace of recognition! 

I felt relieved. 

Or did I? 

Maybe my anxiety had, in reality, been hope – hope that somehow she would recognize me and my assignment would be revoked by circumstance. 

I followed her into the stationery and greeting cards section on the third floor. 

“I want a Valentine’s Day Card.” I heard her ask, “something very special. Exclusive. Custom-made.” 

“Yes, madam,” the sales girl said, “I’ll take you to the manager.” 

A windfall! 

What luck! 

A custom-made Valentine’s Day Card. 

I knew I had the case all wrapped up. 

The case? 

The mission? 

The assignment? 

Oh yes! 

Let me tell you all about it. 

Plainly but precisely. 

The way a good soldier recalls a battle – not to win – not to lose – but just tells the facts – the simple truth. 

It started as a simple inquiry – a pre-matrimonial investigation. 

That’s what Vandana had told me. 

Rita Rao.

That was her name. 

The girl in white who looked like Rajashree. 

Rita Rao was clean. 

They gave her a clean chit. 

So, our client went to her father with a marriage proposal. 

Rita Rao’s father was delighted. 

Both were only children – I mean the only child of their respective parents. 

Both were scions of flourishing business families. 

An ideal marriage which made business-sense too. 

But Rita Rao refuses. 

Says she won’t go in for an arranged marriage with our client Jayant – that is his name. 

Rita Rao says that she will marry the man she loves. 

“Who?” asks her father. 

“I don’t know,” she tells her father – there are at least two  maybe three prospective candidates she has in mind. 

But she can’t decide. 

She needs time. 

“Okay,” says her doting father Mr. Rao, “You decide by Valentine’s Day. Or else I’ll announce your engagement to Mr. Jayant on the 15th of February.” 

Rita Rao agrees. 

Unbelievable  but true. 

Those are the ways of the rich! 

Our client Mr. Jayant is furious with Vandana. 

“You told me she’s clean. I want you to find out everything about her. I want his name. The man she intends marrying. Fast. At any cost. Don’t worry about expenses,” Mr. Jayant says.

“You’ll get the name, Mr. Jayant. By Valentine’s Day – the 14th of February,” Vandana assures our client. 

So I shave off my beard and begin shadowing and tailing Rita Rao. 

“I knew she won’t recognize you,” Vandana said, as we ordered a late evening ‘tiffin’ in our favorite restaurant on MG Road, “Do you know the amount of money Jayant is going to pay for this assignment? It is enough to last a lifetime.”  

“And then?” I ventured. 

“And then we go off to Seychelles for a holiday. The two of us – just you and me – to enjoy in the cool breeze, the pristine blue waters, the silver beaches just the both of us,” she smiled, with a far-away look in her eyes. 

“I didn’t mean about us,” I said softly, “What I mean is suppose we tell our client the name of Rita Rao’s ‘Valentine’  then, what will he do? I don’t understand why is he paying so much money just to know a name?” 

“Don’t delve too deeply!” Vandana’s voice trailed off, as I noticed Rita Rao entering the restaurant. 

A man got up and walked toward her. 

The sight of Rita Rao clearly gave the man great joy  for he was beaming with pleasure. 

“It’s not him,” Vandana said. 

“Why not?” 

“Can’t you see? They love each other  but they are not in love with each other!” 

“Like us?” 

“No, Vivek. There’s slight difference. You love me – but I am in love with you.”  

I took Vandana’s hand, slipping my five fingers in between hers, and I said to her, “I’ll try.” 

And try I did  as we cuddled very close that evening watching a romantic movie sitting in the corner seats of the movie theatre. 

For the next few days we did everything possible  surveillance  bugging  but there was no clue. 

Except one. 

Just one small clue. 

On the 31st of January, Rita Rao collected her custom-made Valentine’s Day Card and headed straight back to her bungalow on her Tea Estate near Ooty. 

And then she holed up there incommunicado. 

Finally, on the 12th of February, Vandana’s ‘Greetings Telegram’ arrived. 

(Those days, when this happened, there was no e-mail, no internet, no e-cards, and no cell-phones for SMS – only greeting cards and telegrams). 

The handwriting on the telegram was barely legible, “Happy Birthday. See you on 14th of February at the Flower Show. Love. Valentine.” 

I smiled to myself. 

Vandana had signed as ‘Valentine’ – her codeword for this mission. 

I realized how much Vandana loved me. 

I’d made her wait long enough. 

Now I’d seal it. 

On Valentine’s Day. 

At last it was Valentine’s Day. 

February 14. 

The Ooty Flower Show at the Botanical Gardens. 

Celebrating the festival of lovers. 

The mating season of birds. 

The magnificent display of roses. 

Vandana beside me. 

I had waited for this moment – and now that the moment had come I did not know what to do with it! 

I put my hand inside my overcoat and nervously gripped the diamond necklace wrapped around a bouquet of a dozen red roses. 

And while taking it out I mumbled, “Vandana, thanks for the birthday greetings telegram.” 

“What telegram?” Vandana asked  with genuine surprise in her eyes. 

I froze. 

My mind went blank. 

I stood flummoxed  holding the necklace in my hand  frozen  not knowing what to do. 

Someone was tapping my back. 

I turned around. 

And I stood dumbstruck, shell-shocked, mesmerized by what I saw in front of me. 

It was Rita Rao. 

She was holding out the beautifully engraved Valentine Card in her hand. 

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Rita Rao seemed to be saying with her dancing eyes. 

Instinctively, I gave her the diamond necklace wrapped around the bouquet of red roses and I could see the glow of love in her eyes. 

Then, I turned towards Vandana. 

Vandana quickly plucked out a yellow rose and gave it to me. 

There were tears in Vandana’s eyes as she said, “Take my car. The tickets are in the dashboard. Coimbatore to Mumbai and Mumbai to Seychelles!” 

And Vandana held out the car keys, looked at both of us, and she said, “Hey, lovebirds. Happy Valentine’s Day! 

The officer at Mumbai Airport opened the passport, saw the photo inside, and then he had a good look at Rita Rao. 

Thumbing through the pages of Rajashree’s well-worn passport, he asked her, “You are Rajashree Mathur?” 

“Yes,” Rita answered boldly. 

The officer stamped our passports, he gave them back to us, and he said, “Have a nice holiday Mr. & Mrs. Mathur. Seychelles is wonderful place.”

VIKRAM KARVE
Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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Disclaimer:
This story is 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.

Copyright Notice:
No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.

Copyright © Vikram Karve (all rights reserved)

This story written by me in 1990 and earlier posted online in my creative writing blogs a number of times from 2004 onwards including on 30 June 2006 at url: https://karve.wordpress.com/2006/06/30/my-valentine/
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