The tear shed

He leant back in his chair. He put his head against the cushion and closed his eyes …

They called him ‘heartless’. They called him ‘ice cold’. They called him a ‘robot’. He did not cry. He did not cry when he witnessed his parents’ shot to death. He did not cry when a car ran over his brother in broad daylight, in front of his eyes. He simply did not cry. He did not know how to.

***

He was minding his own business, as he always did. She walked up to him. She was a new recruit. She smiled at him. He stared.
‘Hello!’, she said.
‘What do you want?’, he asked.
‘I’m new here. I was wondering if you could tell me where the bank is’, she asked warmly.
‘Go down the stairs. First right’, came the reply, abruptly. That was how it passed. Their first meeting.

She was assigned to his team. He could not have cared less. She was inquisitive; he was indifferent. Not really a match made in heaven. She was good, though. Very good at what she did. She had his respect. Gradually, though, he warmed up to her. He was not one to make small-talk but he tried. Reluctantly, and painstakingly.

***

‘Er, I was wondering …’
‘Yeah?’
‘It’s nothing really. Forget I said anything.’
‘No, no! Go on …’
‘Well, I was wondering, if , after work, if you do not have any plans lined up and if you’ve absolutely nothing else to do, because I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you in the least, I was wondering if you were free, maybe you’d like to,er, I dunno, get a cup of coffee?’
She laughed.
‘If this is you asking me out, I’d say that you’ve rather made a meal of it but since I am “free” and “have absolutely nothing else to do” and since you aren’t “inconveniencing me” in the least, sure! I’d love to grab a coffee. So does that answer your question?’
She laughed; more of a giggle this time.
‘Yes’, he said, turned around and walked. He did not know how else to react. Sarcasm was an alien concept.
‘Strange chap’, she thought, and smiled.

***

And so they met for coffee that evening. And every evening after that for a week. It continued for months. It was as if a storm had smacked him straight on the face. He had known no one like her. She was wonderful. She had this amazing warmth that she radiated, that each time he even saw her, she took his breath away. She was just so full of life that he was just astounded by her every time. He did not know that someone could have such a zest for life. He melted in her presence. It was a feeling that he did not know existed.

Always though, he knew that it was not to be. She was committed. Committed in a relationship that had a smaller chance of failure than the chance that he had of becoming the president of America. He had hopes that he harbored, though. That no one could take away from him. Yet, all the while, he knew that it was not to be. Never to be.

She confided in him, and he in her. He told her things that he never thought he would tell another human being. As each day went by, he began to like her more and more. He openly flirted with her. She responded in kind; only, she knew that it was all fun and games, he hoped otherwise, although he knew it was just not ever going to happen. Ever. He spoke to her during the day; he spoke to her during the night. He even spoke to her in between, if that time even existed.

***

And then, it came. The inevitable. She had to leave. It was time. She told him. He nodded understandingly in front of her; went home and brooded alone. He always knew that it would come to this. His pragmatic self had taught him enough to know that the inevitable always happened. He knew, or rather, thought that he knew that when it would happen eventually, he would bear it. Now, he was not so sure.

There was a week to go. The last day was drawing close. He had resigned himself to fate but there was still a part of him that just could not let go. For the first time in a long time, he was attached. The week went by with her packing and him watching.

***

And then the day arrived. He went to the railway station to send her off. He helped her onto the train and placed her luggage in the seat below. It was time for the train to leave. He got down. She stood at the door of the compartment. The train moved. She waved. He waved. She kept waving, with a smile on her face. With every wave, she seemed to go further and further.

The smile on his face, the one he had put on, was disappearing. She could still see his face. Suddenly, it went all blurry. All he could see were fuzzy outlines and at the center, her. She alone shone; shone like a star, bright and brilliant. The more the microseconds wore on, the more blurred his vision became. He could only see her face now. Nothing else. And then it happened…
Tears, an entity, the existence of which he had not really known, welled up in his eyes but before she could see him, he turned away. As he turned, a solitary tear escaped his eye. It fell to the ground and splashed, making a splatter on the ground. A dark spot amidst the light colored dirty floor of the platform – the tear shed. He walked away. He did not turn to look back. He just couldn’t …

***

His eyes were watery but before a tear could be shed, he opened his eyes and looked. He was in his chair. He looked to his side and smiled. He had shed a tear once. He did not regret it. Though, he now knew that had his eyes not become watery that day, had be been stronger ….

***

He cast his mind back to that day.

***

He went back to that point in time when his eyes welled up. He froze that moment in time and looked out of the corner of his eye. Standing at the door of the next compartment, also waving , to someone else though, was the woman that now rested her head on his shoulders; his wife. Had his vision not blurred, had his eyes not welled up, that would have been the day he first met his wife. As fate would have it, though, he did indeed meet her later and fell head over heels in love with her.

He looked back and thought about it. He had no regrets. Well, maybe just one – that it prevented it from meeting the woman of his dreams sooner.

Footnote: What of her? Well, he and she remain the greatest of friends.

A corner of an Indian airfield

As I was entering Pune airport the other day, I saw this gentleman ahead of me in the check-in line. This man was dressed in a smart tweed coat, a light colored shirt and grey trousers.I was sure I’d seen that look of perenially-searching-for something somewhere. I saw that shaggy mop of greyish hair and the pair of glasses on the bridge of the nose and I knew for sure. Ramachandra Guha. The man who TIME magazine called The Indian democracy’s pre-eminent chronicler. Instinctively, I thought I should go talk to him but then decided against it. Check-in was to be done. The flight had been advanced (The Jet Airways guys sent me a message about a month in advance about the change in timing, and were reminding me every 10 days or so).

So on I went, checked in (just about in time) and waited in the lounge for what was supposed to be a five minute wait. Well, I was going home after about three months so naturally wanted to ‘get on with it!’ “For your kind attention please. Jet Airways flight 9W … has been delayed and will take off only at … hours.” This was pretty much the old departure time. Damn. A wait for another 40 odd minutes. Right. Off to the book store.

I go in and on the center-piece in full display: Makers of Modern India by Ramachandra Guha < wry smile >. Suddenly I am reminded once again of Mr.Guha in the vicinity. He has just set himself down on a seat and is apparently contemplating on whether to eat something. He does. He gets something to eat and then again sits down to eat it. Meanwhile, I am still contemplating going and talking to him. I have never actually spoken to an author or a celeb before so naturally, I had my reservations. What was I going to say? How do I begin? While I was thinking of this, Mr.Guha got up and went into the book store. Now there was no way that I was going to miss this moment. I literally ran into the bookstore and just reached it as he entered. I caught a glimpse of him taking a glimpse at his book and silently smiling.

There were about 5 others in the bookstore (and the store-keeper of course). Not one person recognised him. Sad.Anyway, so in I walked and purposefully picked up a copy of his book and flipped to the end where his photo was present. Well, just to be sure. I even thought about buying the book and getting it autographed. Cover price = INR 799. OK. Plan cancelled. Onto the next. So he bought some music CDs and once again went and settled in his seat. Now I was sure I had to go speak to him. So I went.

‘Sir?’
‘Yes?’
< extended hand >
< Got a hand in return. Whew! First bulb avoided. So far, so good. >
‘Big fan, sir!’
< Mr.Guha bows slightly but with amazing courtesy and humility. Awesome! >
‘I just read an exceprt from your new book; the one that appeared in Caravan magazine. Quite brilliant, sir!’
< Again, a polite nod >
‘Thank you.’
‘My all-time favourite, though, is A corner of a foreign field. Absolutely incredible.’
< Another nod >
< It must be pointed out that I was pretty much tongue-tied and in almost no control of what I was saying >
‘Do you plan to write any cricket books in the near-future?’
‘No, not really. I’ve retired from cricket writing. I do watch it of course but don’t write any more.’
< Dagger throught the hearts of all cricket fans. >
‘But why, sir?’
‘Well, there are more interesting things to write about.’ < smile >
‘Than cricket?!!!’
< Again, another sheepish grin >
‘Well …’
< By this time, I was fresh out of ideas. Over and out >
‘Alright sir, it was great to meet you.’
< smiles >‘What did you say your name was?’
‘Amrith.’
‘Good to meet you.’
< my turn to grin > < GRIN >

And that dear folks, is how I met Mr. Ramachandra Guha. Of course I could’ve sounded intelligent (or so I think) and put blade about the nuances of cricket and politics but decided against it. He was not to be spared though. Sometime after I left and took up my seat in the lounge, one Madras mama, one of the know-it-all types was putting motherblade and Mr.Guha was humoring him and politely smiling along.

I was smiling too.
Whaddaman!!

Cheers