Saturday, July 2, 2016

My First “Date” – The Happiest Day of My Life

MY FIRST “DATE” 

Do you remember your first “Date”...?

I do. 

It was “The Happiest Day of My Life”.

Dear Reader – let me tell you about it...

THE HAPPIEST DAY OF MY LIFE
My Very Own Love Story
Short Fiction
By
VIKRAM KARVE

Part 1 – THE HAPPIEST DAY OF MY LIFE
(Mumbai – Thursday  14 October 1976)
  
Do you remember the happiest day of your life…?

I do…!

Yes – almost 40 years may have passed  but I clearly remember what happened on the happiest day of my life.

Here’s how it began…

“Excuse me,” a feminine voice said from behind me. 

I turned around.

“Mr. Avinash…?” she asked.

I stared blankly at the smart young woman, tongue-tied. 

“I’m Sheetal…” she said with a lovely smile.

“Oh, Hi…” I stammered, quickly gathering my wits.

I looked at her. 

Avinash had been terribly wrong in describing how Sheetal looked like.

The Sheetal standing in front of me was no podgy pedestrian suburban unpretentious back-home-type behenji girl as Avinash had imagined.

She was a real beauty  chic, smart, ravishing, a stunner  and I could not take my eyes off her.

Her eyes were extremely beautiful – enormous, dark, expressive eyes. 

And suddenly  her eyes began to dance.

Sheetal must have seen the frank look of genuine admiration in my eyes.

So she gave me smile so captivating  that I experienced a delightful twinge in my heart.

“You are Mr. Avinash  aren’t you…?” she asked mischievously.

“Yes…” I lied, “How did you recognize me…?”

“You were the only person looking lost and out of place out here – the odd man out…” she laughed vivaciously.

“Oh…” I said unconsciously.

I stood still  mesmerized by her gorgeousness  and by my natural instinct  I let my eyes linger  and travel all over her exquisite body.  

“Hey – are you going to stare at me all day  or should we grab a bite...? I am hungry...” she said playfully.

“Yes…Yes…” I said.

“Okay – come – let’s go to Samovar – we can talk there in peace…” she said.

Sheetal led me from the art gallery to Samovar  the restaurant in the veranda.

Thus began the happiest day of my life.


Part 2 – LIFE IN THOSE “GOOD OLD” DAYS
(Pune – Circa 1976)

Dear Reader  please permit me to tell you a little bit about how it all started.

In order to tell you this story  I am going to transport you back into time 40 years into the past.

Yes  we are going 40 years back in time to 1976  when Pune was a Pensioners’ Paradise.

Believe it or not  Dear Reader  but  in the 1960s and 1970 Pune  the Queen of the Deccan  with its lovely climate  pure fresh air, lush green environs  salubrious, spacious and friendly laid back atmosphere  was indeed a “paradise”.

Yes  those days, Pune was indeed the best city to live in.

In fact  40 years ago  in 1976  Pune was not even a “city” in the literal sense.

Imagine a Pune without Malls and the Multiplexes  with hardly any traffic on the roads  when the bicycle was the popular mode of travel.

The nearest “city” was Mumbai (those days  in the 1970’s  Mumbai was called Bombay – and much earlier  in the 1960’s  Pune was called Poona).

The best way of going to Mumbai was to travel by the Indian Railways  travelling by charming trains like the Deccan Queen  enjoying the scenic beauty of the lush green Sahyadri Ghats while savouring the delicious piping hot breakfast served by the restaurant car.

There was no expressway  and the “Bombay – Poona Road”  as it was called  was quite terrible  and it took around six hours to drive down to Mumbai  as the winding road through the Khandala Ghats was quite treacherous.

Just imagine – there were no mobile cell-phones, no internet, no Smartphones, no PCs, even no STD.

If you wanted to talk to someone outside Pune – you had to book trunk-calls on a landline telephone  and wait for hours for the call to materialize  or if you were in a hurry  then you had to make expensive “lightening” calls.

Black and White Television had just arrived and was a novelty which very few lucky prosperous people possessed.

And everyone in the neighborhood barged into their homes to watch popular TV programmes like chitrahaar, chayageet, or a cricket match. 

The main thing was that there was no internet  and hence  there was no email  and one had to write letters  and send them via post as there were no courier services either.

Of course  gadgets like mobiles and smartphones were a long way off  so you could not even imagine things like SMS or Social Media like Facebook or Twitter or applications like “WhatsApp”.

Social interaction was face to face  relishing yummy bhel in the numerous picturesque parks  or over tea  in the Amrutatulayas, Irani Cafes and Kattas  as there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Google, no Blogging, no cell phones, no blackberry, no iphones, no smartphones, no SMS, no MMS, no nothing  and as I said  way back then  40 years ago – the concepts of “cyberspace” and wireless mobile technology just did not exist.

Those days  a B. Tech. from an IIT did not get you a huge pay packet – yes, an IIT degree surely ensured that you got a good job  but once you were in the job  you were on par with the other guys from various Engineering Colleges. 

Yes  only guys did engineering those days  maybe there were a few gals  the rare exceptions  but I hardly met any pursuing a career as an engineer  maybe most of them got married  or shifted to softer professions.

Both of us  my IIT Classmate Avinash and I  joined a leading engineering company located in the suburbs of Pune.

Well that was the trend at IITs those days.

Either you went abroad  to America  to pursue higher studies.

Or – you got a good job in the campus interview in a prestigious engineering firm  unless you were one of those few who preferred to be a white-collared manager via the MBA route.

Way back then there were hardly any management institutes (business schools as they are called nowadays)  I think maybe there was just one IIM, at Ahmedabad, or maybe there were two  and there was FMS at Delhi  and Jamnalal Bajaj at Mumbai.

The majority of engineers studied engineering to practice engineering  so we were quite happy to hit the shop floor doing hard core engineering.

We worked hard  for six days a week including Sundays  and we had our weekly off on Thursdays – the industrial holiday in Pune.

We rented a house near Deccan Gymkhana  from where we commuted to work and back by the company bus.

Life was good. 

It was easy to be happy. 

The threshold of happiness was so low  that small things made us happy.

Yes  simple things like a relaxed chat over a cup of tea made you happy.

I can never forget those happy moments.

Yes  every evening after work  we would get down from the bus at Deccan Gymkhana bus stop  relax over a Bun-Maska and Chai at Café Good Luck or Lucky  and then walk down to our rented apartment on Bhandarkar Road nearby.

One of our most enjoyable highlights was our weekly Thursday visit to Pune Camp – to see the latest Hollywood Movie in royal style relaxing on those unique easy chairs at the inimitable West End Cinema  relishing tasty mouth-watering bites and soothing thirst-quenching sips at the Soda Fountain during the interval  followed by delectable Mutton Samosas, Bun Maska and refreshing Irani style Chai at Naaz  then a leisurely stroll on Main Street (now called MG Road) and East Street  window-shopping  bird-watching – and snacking  sandwiches, chicken rolls and cold coffee at Marz-o-rin  maybe a browse at Manney’s bookstore  and then  a hearty Chinese meal at Kamling or Chung Fa  or a Mughlai repast at Latif or Punjabi Food at Kwality  Biryani at Dorabjee or George  or Sizzlers at The Place (which boasts of being the first Sizzler Place in India) next to Manney’s.

And then  we would end the day with a Meetha Masala Paan at George Pan Shop  to carry home the lingering flavour and fragrance of the delightful evening.


Part 3 – AVINASH ASKS ME A FAVOUR
(Pune – Wednesday Evening  13 October 1976)

When there are two close friends  one assumes the role of a leader  and the other becomes a de facto follower. 

Amongst the two of us  Avinash was a tall, strapping, confident, flamboyant, handsome man endowed with an excellent physique with a dominating personality – and he was the natural leader. 

“Shekhar  can you do me a favour...?” Avinash said to me one Wednesday evening while we were sipping chai at Good Luck Cafe in Deccan.

“Favour...?” I asked.

“I want you to go down to Mumbai tomorrow and see a girl in my place...” he said nonchalantly.

“See a girl…?” I looked at him, confused.

“Let me explain to you. There is some back-home-type behenji girl.”

“Back-home-type behenji girl...?”

“Yes. Someone visited my parents in my hometown with a marriage proposal for me. They want me to marry their daughter. She works in Mumbai. My parents want me to see her  but I am least interested in getting involved with any back-home-type behenji female.”

“So?”

“So  you go to Mumbai – pretend to be me  and meet her  and come back. And  I will tell my parents that I did not like the girl,” Avinash said.

“You want Me to go and meet Her...masquerading as You...? Are you crazy! Tell me, why don’t you go to Mumbai and meet her?” I asked.

“Listen yaar – I have managed to patao a solid cheez – I met her during that management seminar which I attended last week…” he said.

“But you didn’t tell me anything…” I said.

Arre Bhai  first let something happen  kuch hone to do  but uske liye you will have to help me out. This new girl I met at Seminar – I have fixed up a solid date with her tomorrow taking her for a drive on my bike around Lonavala and Khandala – we planned it during the seminar  she agreed after lots of my pleading. And  suddenly this morning  my mom calls up in the office and tells me to go to Mumbai tomorrow to meet this marriage proposal girl. I told my mother that I was not interested  but she said that she had given her word  so I had to go and meet the girl tomorrow as a formality. Please Shekhar – help me out. Just go to Mumbai tomorrow and meet the girl. I told you that it is just a formality. Then we can all forget about it...” Avinash said.

“But how…?” I protested.

“I have already booked your ticket both ways by Deccan Queen. Just go to Mumbai in the morning  and come back to Pune in the evening. This girl I am supposed to see is called Sheetal  and she will meet you in the Jehangir Art Gallery at 11 o’clock. It’s a working day for her – and she told my mother that she would take some time off  and she would be there to meet me at Jehangir Art Gallery which is near her office.”

“But how can I masquerade as you...? She must be having your photo. I will get caught – and it will be very embarrassing...” I said.

“There is no photo, nothing – she doesn’t know how I look like  and I even don’t know how she looks like. It all happened so suddenly. Our parents got talking back home last evening  my mother spoke to the girl by trunk-call. My mother knows I have Thursday off  so she fixed up the meeting with the girl – and then my mother rang me up this morning to go and see the girl tomorrow.”

“But what is the crashing hurry...? You can meet next Thursday...” I said.

“It seems that the girl is going back to her hometown near our place  in the mofussil  by the Friday evening train. She is going away for a month’s leave and there are some boys lined up there for her to see – apparently my mother is quite keen on this girl  her family is good  she is the only child, so maybe they promised plenty of dowry. But I am just not interested. She is seeing so many boys back home  I am sure she will like someone  and she will forget about me  I mean – you  she’ll surely forget you” pretty soon  because you are quite forgettable...” he said.

“NO NO. I am not going – the whole thing is preposterous – I can’t do this…” I protested.

Yaar please – don’t ditch me – I have already told my mother that I will meet the girl at 11 tomorrow in Jehangir Art Gallery...” he said.

“I don’t understand all this…” I said.

“I have told you all this before. My mother said her office is in Kalaghoda – so Jehangir Art Gallery is the nearest and best place – there in Mumbai. She works on Thursdays – only we here in Pune have industrial off on Thursdays – so they fixed up tomorrow as the girl has to leave for her place on Friday evening on a holiday. Don’t argue – just get it over with. You have to meet her for 10-15 minutes, that’s all. Then she will go back to her office. You loaf around in Colaba  have some Biryani at Olympia or Delhi Darbar  and see a movie at Regal, Eros or Sterling, New Empire, Metro or somewhere – there is so much to do there. Then catch the Deccan Queen at 5 o’clock in the evening. I will come to pick you up at Pune railway station. And  after you come back  we will go to the Telephone Exchange – and from there  I will call up my mother  and I will tell her I did not like the girl – and the whole thing will be a closed chapter...” Avinash said.

“No. I don’t like all this...” I protested.

Then Avinash put his arm around my shoulder and pleaded: “Please Shekhar – I have to go for this Lonavala date – the female is too good yaar and it is a solid opportunity. I promise you Shekhar – agar woh pat gayee – if things work out and my Lonavala romance succeeds – I will give you a big treat – whatever you want.”

So  for the sake of friendship  early next morning  I boarded the Deccan Queen to Mumbai masquerading as Avinash – and travelled to Mumbai for my rendezvous with Sheetal.


Part 4 – RENDEZVOUS IN JEHANGIR ART GALLERY
(Mumbai – Thursday Morning, 14 October 1976)

The Deccan Queen reached Mumbai at 10:30 AM.

I walked down DN Road  past Hutatma Chowk (or Flora Fountain as it is popularly known)  and by the time I reached Jehangir Art Gallery at Kala Ghoda it was almost 11 AM.

For a few moments I stood in the foyer  looking around at all the girls  searching for someone looking like a back-home-type behenji female who may be Sheetal.

Dear Reader  I know it will be difficult for you to imagine how different and archaic things were in those days  40 years ago.

Today if you want to find out about someone  you can just Google their name  and  presto – so many details will show up about that person – you can easily see everything about her, her present, her past, her family and friends, the places she has visited, where she has studied, worked, you can even see her pictures, her entire web identity.

Today  pictures can be instantly clicked and sent on mobile phones  even photos can be scanned and sent instantly on mobiles and by email.

But – in the 1970’s  the only way to send a photograph was by post  and a letter took many days to reach.

That is why it was not possible for Avinash and Sheetal to exchange photos.

And – that is why I could masquerade as Avinash.

So – that is why  at 11 AM on the 14th of October 1976  I was standing in Jehangir Art Gallery waiting to meet a girl called Sheetal – but I was totally clueless about how Sheetal looked like.

After a few moments  I went into the exhibition hall and started admiring the paintings.

“Excuse me...” a feminine voice said from behind me. 

I turned around.

“Mr. Avinash…?” she asked.

I stared blankly at the smart young woman – I was tongue-tied. 

“I’m Sheetal…” she said with a lovely smile.

“Oh, Hi…” I stammered, quickly gathering my wits.

I looked at her. 

Avinash had been terribly wrong in describing how Sheetal looked like.

The Sheetal standing in front of me was no podgy pedestrian suburban unpretentious “back-home-type behenji female”.

She was a real beauty, chic, smart, ravishing, a stunner, and I could not take my eyes off her.

Her eyes were extremely beautiful – enormous, dark, expressive eyes. 

And suddenly her eyes began to dance.

Sheetal must have seen the frank look of genuine admiration in my eyes.

Yes, I was genuinely admiring her beauty with the unspoken language of the eyes which was worth more than a thousand spoken compliments.

Sheetal must have felt it, so she gave me smile so captivating that I experienced a delightful twinge in my heart.

“You are Mr. Avinash, aren’t you…?” she asked mischievously.

“Yes…” I lied, “How did you recognize me…?”

“You were the only person looking totally lost and out of place over here – like the odd man out,” she laughed vivaciously.

“Oh…” I said unconsciously.

I stood still, mesmerized by her gorgeousness, and following my natural instinct, I let my eyes linger on her, travel all over her exquisite body.  

“Hey – are you going to stare at me all day or should we grab a bite? I am hungry,” she said playfully.

“Yes…Yes…” I said.

“Okay…come…let’s go to Samovar…we can talk there in peace too…” she said.

Sheetal led me from the art gallery to Samovar, the restaurant in the veranda.


Part 5 – A ROMANTIC DATE WITH THE “BACK-HOME-TYPE BEHENJI FEMALE”
(Mumbai – Thursday Afternoon, 14 October 1976)

Samovar restaurant was situated next to the art gallery in a long rectangular veranda and resembling a Railway Dining Car.

We sat down opposite each other, on the comfortable cane chairs, and I looked at the expansive green lawns of adjoining Museum.

The moment we sat down a waiter came and asked us what we wanted to eat.

“I am hungry,” she said, and she ordered stuffed Parathas and Dahi Wada.

“I’ll have a cutlet,” I said, “and some Pudina Chai after that.”

“You’ve come here before,” she asked.

“Just once, a few years ago, when I was at IIT,” I said.

“Oh yes, you studied at IIT Powai – but that’s quite far away.”

“We sometimes came down from Powai to South Mumbai on Sundays  to have a loaf around Fort, Colaba and Churchgate – and maybe see a movie.”

“I come here quite often. My office is nearby. That’s why I suggested this place – we can sit here and talk undisturbed for as long as we want and get to know each other better. This is a nice place for a relaxed chat over lunch.” she said.

I was in no mood for a relaxed chat over lunch.

In fact I was feeling nervous.

The more I talked to her, the more was the chance of me being unmasked – suppose I slipped up, and what if she came to know that I was not the Avinash she was expecting, but a phony masquerading as Avinash – it would be terrible – I could not even imagine the consequences.

I also felt qualms of conscience.

I had taken a liking to this girl Sheetal  sitting in front of me  and I felt I was not doing the right thing by pretending to be Avinash.

I could not bear the mendacity – I felt terribly guilty telling a blatant lie and cheating this decent girl.

So  I blurted out, “Hey, Sheetal. I think I need to go. I cannot do this any longer. Bye  I must go now.”

“You want to go now...? Is anything wrong...? Are you feeling okay...?”

“No  I am not okay. And  everything is wrong.”

“What happened...?” she asked looking surprised, and worried.

“I want to tell you something. I want to confess…” I said.

“Confess...? What...?” she asked.

“I am not who you think. I am not Avinash. My name is Shekhar...” I said.

She gave me a puzzled look  and then she said, “Why don’t you tell me everything.”

I told her everything.

Yes  I told her everything – from the beginning to the end – each and every thing.

I felt relieved once I had got it off my chest.

I thought she would get angry.

But she smiled and said: “So you are Shekhar who has come to see the marriage proposal for Avinash – that is me – the prospective bride”...”

“Yes...” I said sheepishly.

“And the real Avinash is having a good time with the hot-chick in Lonavala...?”

“Yes...”

“So you will make a fool of me by masquerading as Avinash and pass some time with me and go back to Pune...?”

“Yes.”

“And the moment you reach Pune  Avinash will ring up his mother – and he will tell her that he did not like the girl – that is “Me...”

“Yes.”

“What was the need to for this charade...?”

“I don’t know – Avinash said it has something to do with your conservative families – if he refuses to see you  then relations may get spoiled. But please  I don’t want to discuss all this – I am feeling very bad doing this to you – I am very sorry.”

“You don’t be sorry – it is your friend Avinash who should be sorry...”

“I will go now...?”

“You are booked by the evening Deccan Queen  isn’t it...?”

“Yes.”

“So  now that we are stuck with each other  why don’t we make the most of it...?” she said.

“I don’t know…”

“Don’t worry – I am not going to eat you up. We will do whatever time-pass you were planning to do after getting rid of me...”

“But you have got office – that is what Avinash told me.”

“I have taken the day off. Come  let’s spend some time together – then you can catch the Deccan Queen  and I will go back to my hostel on Marine Drive.”

Our food order arrived.

Sheetal asked for extra plates  and we shared the stuffed parathas and the cutlet.

“Now what...?” Sheetal asked, after we had finished eating.

“Let’s see the Museum,” I said  looking out towards the imposing Museum building.

“The Museum...?” she asked, looking surprised.

“You don’t want to go to the Museum...? Okay  whatever you say...”

“No. No. Today you are taking me out on a “Date. I will come with you wherever take me,” she smiled  and she said politely to me, “just imagine  I have been in Mumbai for 6 months – I work so close by  and I have not seen the Museum...”

I must say that Sheetal was really beautiful  and as we walked side by side  I realized that all the men were looking appreciatively at her  in fact  some men were giving her quite yearning looks.

For the first time in my life  I felt the natural pride of possession  that any man feels  when he has the company of a woman that other men desire.

After we came out the Museum  she asked me: “Now what...?”

“Let’s walk down Colaba Causeway. We can go to Olympia for a Biryani  and then have Gulab Jamun or Falooda at Kailash Parbat...”

“Okay. But I am not hungry yet. So what should we do now...?” she asked.

“Let’s browse books...”

“Browse books...?”

“Yes – we can browse books on the pavement bookstalls near the CTO – sometimes you get good books there quite cheap...”

“And how are we going there...? I hope you are not going to march me down on foot...!”

“Yes – I was thinking it will be a good walk...”

“Please – I am feeling quite tired – and my legs are aching – the high heels I am wearing are not exactly made for cross country walking!”

“Okay – let’s take the bus...”

“Bus...? You want to take me  your lovely “Date”  in a bus...?”

“Why...? Is something wrong...? I have no experience in these sorts of things...”

“Haven’t you dated a girl before..?”

“No.”

“Okay  let’s go by bus.” 

Soon – we reached CTO – and walked to the pavement book-stalls.

We browsed books.

Then we went to a quaint Maharashtrian restaurant opposite VT called Kelkar Vishranti Gruha – and we ate Sabudana Usal and Kanda Thalipith – and washed it down by a delicious Piyush.

Sheetal looked at me and said: “I have gone out with so many boys  but you are different...”

“Different...?”

“No one wanted to march me down in the hot sun  no one took me by bus – no one made me browse books on pavement stalls – and no one has taken me to these quaint food joints – which I didn’t know even existed.”

“You didn’t enjoy...?”

“Of course I did – but what I am saying is that I have never seen anyone like you – you are different from the rest – you are so simple, you act so natural – I have met all kinds of men  but you are truly an original...” she said.

I felt good – I blushed – but maybe she was just being kind.

We strolled in Fort  window-shopping.

I lost all track of time.

The day had passed in a haze of delight – for the first time in my life  I experienced the joy that a girl can bring in a man’s life.

We passed a shop selling clocks.

Sheetal looked at the clocks and said: “Hey it is already 4:45 – you have to catch the Deccan Queen  isn’t it...? I think we better head to the station...”

“Okay, Bye…” I said.

“What do you mean, Bye – I am coming to see you off...” she said.

I did not refuse.

I yearned for a few more moments of her delightful company.


Part 6 – THE CLIMAX OF THE STORY
(Mumbai – Thursday Evening, 14 October 1976)

It was 5 o’clock in the evening.

The blue-and-cream Deccan Queen stood beside the platform waiting to start its evening journey from Mumbai to Pune.

We  Sheetal and Me  we stood on platform outside my coach.

“You are the first boy I have met who did not try to impress me... Sheetal said.

“I know. But what can I do...? I told you that I have no experience of dating girls. But I should have tried and treated you better. I am sorry...” I said.

“Hey 
 why are you sorry? You are really nice decent guy. I really enjoyed your company...”

“You are just saying that to console me. I am such a bore  and such a cheapie. I am sure I ruined your day...” I said apologetically.

“No. No. I really enjoyed your company. I have never gone a date like this before. It was real fun...” she said with a smile.

“Thank you, Sheetal. I am feeling so good that you said that...”

“It is true, Shekhar. You make me feel good. No one has made me feel so good before. I really enjoy your company. You are one person with whom I can be myself. Yes – with you I can be my own self. I don’t have to fake it. I don’t have to put on an act. I don’t have to wear a mask. I don’t have to be someone else. I can just be myself and forget about all those social graces...”

“Me too…” I said.

“Maybe we should see more of each other. I think I will come down to Pune next weekend.”

“What...? You want to come to Pune...?”

“Why...? Don’t you like my company...?”

“No. No. Of course I like you. But Avinash will be there in Pune. It will be very awkward...”

“Avinash...? To hell with him...! In any case  I am not getting married to Avinash now. In fact  by tomorrow he would have told his parents that he has rejected me. That is what he told you  isn’t it...?”

“Yes. In fact  Avinash told me that he would call up his parents tonight only  the moment I reach Pune.”

“Shekhar  you make sure Avinash calls up his parents tonight. Because I am going to call up my parents from the CTO the moment the Deccan Queen leaves – I am going and tell them that I don’t want to marry such a dope like Avinash...”

“Dope...? But Avinash is not a dope. He is not like me...” I said.

“And suppose – just suppose – I told you that Sheetal is not like me...” she said, looking at me directly in the eye.

“Sheetal is not like you...? What do you mean...? You are Sheetal aren’t you...?”

“You still think I am Sheetal  don’t you...?” she looked at me mischievously.

“Yes. Aren’t you Sheetal...?” I said, a bit bewildered.

“You know, Shekhar – I like you so much – you make me feel so good – and  you were so frank and honest with me – that – I can’t cheat you any longer...” she said.

“Cheat me…?”

“Yes. I have been deceiving you  and I have been making a fool of you. But you are such a good guy  that I have to be honest with you. I am going to come clean...”

“Come clean...?”

“Shekhar  in the morning you told me the truth that you are not Avinash – now it is my turn to tell you the truth. I want to confess…”

“Confess …?”

“I am not Sheetal …” she said.

“What...? You are not Sheetal...? You are not the girl Avinash was supposed to see for marriage...?” I asked – I was totally taken aback, feeling puzzled and perplexed.

“Yes, Shekhar – I am not Sheetal...” she repeated.

Then who are you…?” I asked her, trying to recover my wits.

“Shweta – my name is Shweta. I am the girl Avinash was supposed to meet in Lonavala...” she said.

“Lonavala...? Don’t tell me that you are that hot-chick who Avinash was so desperate to patao…!” I blurted out, instantly regretting my words.

She laughed.

She gave a hearty laugh.

I looked at her dumbstruck, feeling embarrassed.

Then she said to me: “Yes  I am the hot-chick your friend Avinash met last week at the Management Seminar...”

“You’ve not gone to Lonavala to meet him as planned...? Poor Avinash. He must have waited for you all day. Why did you ditch him...?”

“Don’t worry. I have sent Sheetal to Lonavala to meet Avinash.”

“What...? Sheetal...? You have sent Sheetal to Lonavala to meet Avinash...?”

“Yes  the same Sheetal – well  she happens to be my best friend.”

“Oh...?”

“Sheetal told me that her mother was forcing her to see a boy called Avinash who was coming down from Pune. She told me that she did not want to see any boy – in fact  Sheetal is not interested in getting married so fast...”

“So...?”

“When she told me details of the boy  I got a bit suspicious – could it be the same Avinash who had called me to Lonavala...? How could he be in Lonavala and Mumbai at the same time...? Was he two-timing me...? Or  was he going to stand her up...? I was curious  very curious...”

“So you decided to swap dates...?”

“Yes. And – we wanted to get to the bottom of things – to find out who is who  and  what is what – doodh ka doodh aur paani ka paani – as they say in Hindi...”

“So you came to meet me masquerading as Sheetal...?” I said.

“Yes  and the actual Sheetal has gone to Lonavala by the same morning train on which I was supposed to travel. Sheetal must have been there on time at the rendezvous point where Avinash was going to meet me. I am sure Sheetal and Avinash have met each other...”

“Oh, My God…”

“Why...? How do you know that they won’t like each other...? We liked each other didn’t we...? I am sure they are spending some quality time together. You never know – Sheetal and Avinash may even decide to get married...” Shweta said, with a mischievous smile and twinkle in her eyes.

Suddenly  I heard the guard blow his whistle.

It was almost 5:10 – time for the Deccan Queen to leave.

“The train is going to start. I have to go now…” I said to Shweta.

“Let the train go...” she said.

“What...?”

“I want to spend some more time with you. Let’s walk on Marine Drive – watch sunset together. Then we’ll go to Chowpatty. Let’s walk on the sand by the sea, having some yummy bhel. And then  you can treat me to that green chilly ice cream you were telling me so much about…” she said.

Suddenly  the train jerked and started moving.

“Hey  the train is leaving...” I said

“Let it go...” Shweta said, and she pressed my hand.

I pressed her hand back – as I watched the Deccan Queen leave without me.

The evening passed in a haze of delight.

Never before had I enjoyed the company of a person so much.

For the first time in my life I experienced a new emotion – a kind of thrilling happiness and blissful joy that the right girl can bring in your life.

And  Shweta was certainly the right girl for me.

I realized the meaning of love – I knew what it was like to be in love.

We sat on the parapet enjoying the cool night sea breeze on Marine Drive opposite the working women’s hostel where Shweta lived.

Time flew.

I looked at my watch – it was 11:15.

The last train for Pune  the overnight Passenger  left Mumbai at 11:45 PM.

It was time to say goodbye  at least for now.

I called a Taxi.

“Bye,” I said to Shweta.

“Bye,” she said.

“I want to ask you something...” I said.

“I know what you want to ask me and my answer is YES...” she said.

My heart ached as the taxi moved away  and the distance between us kept on increasing till she disappeared into the distance.

But I knew that this was the beginning of a long and lovely relationship.


EPILOGUE – All’s Well That Ends Well 

Shweta and I got married.

And  by the way  Sheetal and Avinash got married too.

Two best friends married two best friends.

What an irony of life – the conservative me, I got married to the mod-chick Shweta – and the mod-guy Shekhar got married to the “back-home-type behenji girl” Sheetal.

We got married in 1977 – and it has been a long time since  39 years have passed  and till this day  we all live happily ever after.

All’s well that ends well.

We always taunt them  Avinash and Sheetal  that ours is a “Love” Marriage and theirs is an “Arranged” Marriage.

We have all relocated to Mumbai.                                                                    

Do you want to meet us?

Okay  try your luck on Sunday evenings at Bachellor’s opposite Chowpatty  and you may chance upon us enjoying Green Chilly Ice Cream.

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.

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