She was 16 when she fell in love with him. He was a young Army officer who had just returned from Sri Lanka after fighting the LTTE. His palms were made of steel and his voice, when he sang, as silky as Hemant Kumar's. Which girl wouldn't fall for him? Their eyes had first met during Durga Puja, and then they began to meet. At first under the roadside tree outside the school, then in restaurants in the neighbourhood. And that summer, when the entire class went on an excursion to Bombay, he followed her. There they roamed Chowpatty, hand in hand. Holding hands was a big deal in 1987. It was the present-day equivalent of kissing. But unlike kissing, which only fuels your desire to explore further, hand-holding, at least back then, brought about a sense of contentment. The average couple knew that they had reached the maximum permissible limit, and that the rest would follow only once they got married.
She was 20 when she got married. She was still preparing for civil services exams. The groom was an engineer, a product of IIT Kanpur: a soft, intelligent, good-looking guy. Her parents had netted the prize catch after combing the matrimonial columns of the Times of India for months. She glowed on the night of her wedding. That year, she also got through the civil services exams. Engineer husband, bureaucrat wife: what a life. Two years later, she had her first child, a girl. And two years after that, a boy. Living in an old British-made bungalow, they lived happily ever after.
'Ever after' is a relative term; its periodicity can vary from five years to 50 years, but once you've cross the 20-year mark of living happily, you've lived happily every after. In their case, they've already crossed the 20-year mark. She is almost 40 now, he is 45. He is the vice-president of his company; she is the managing director of a government-run corporation (she has also published two slim books on poetry, and she blogs too. Though not many people who leave comments on her posts know her real identity. She blogs by the name of 'Sunaina', who describes herself on her profile page as 'I am what I am.') They no longer live in British-built bungalows, but in a bungalow of their own. One happy family: neighbours' pride, society's envy.
Then, one day, Orkut came knocking on the door. And the first person she searched for was -- of course -- the Army officer. She was in luck. Once an officer, always an officer: he looked just the same in his album on Orkut, only that he had greyed. But the salt-and-pepper hair made him even more desirable. Once she had had a good look at him, her eyes widening and narrowing alternately, she turned her attention on his wife. "Is she more attractive than me?" that was the first thought that escaped her mind. The thought was so loud that she could hear it. She at once felt jealous. She heard another thought escaping her mind: "This is my man, how could she have him!" Just then, the bell rang. The daughter had returned from her salsa class. She went to the kitchen and hurriedly made sandwiches for her daughter: her mind was on getting back to the computer as quickly as possible, just to look at the pictures all over again.
Four months have passed ever since she was reunited with her first love, courtesy Orkut. Today, Google Talk keeps the old love aflame. Really, only the internet can bring back dead things to life. And you know what the profile picture on her Google Talk shows these days? It shows a young man and a young woman standing next to each other, rather awkwardly. They want to get closer, perhaps put their arms around each other, but they are aware that the world -- at least the photographer -- is watching. The result is cute as well as disastrous: if I am ever asked to write a caption for the photograph, I would say, "So near, and yet so far." Well, this was the picture taken on Chowpatty, way back in 1987.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, this is not a short story that I am attempting to write, but a true story that has made me think. Though it can also made into a thought-provoking short story provided one has the skills. After seeing the Chowpatty picture on her Google Talk profile for several weeks, I asked her one day, "Aren't you going to change it? Or are you still in the nostalgia mode?" She replied, "What to do, I happened to love him so much." Now that made me think:
1. Should she forever curse life for having denied her her first love, or be thankful to life that she spent 20 blissful years while being married to a man who she did not choose but who not only gave her happiness and two beautiful children but also enough breathing space to write two books of poems?
2. Or is it that she is mistaking lust for love? When you are 40-plus, and your husband a few years older, the bed is the place where you only have arguments. Once upon a time the bed might have been a place where toes touched, but today it is the venue for pointing fingers. In other words, there is no sex, except whatever goes on in the mind. In such a situation, when a handsome visitor appears on the horizon, then... well. And if the visitor happens to be a blast from the past, then.. well. You know what I mean, don't you?
3. Does love retain its potency and its intoxicating properties as long as you don't achieve it? And lose its charm the moment you achieve it? I am asking this because, had Sunaina married the Army officer, wouldn't she have got bored of his constant presence after 20 years of marriage? Maybe she would have searched for other people on Orkut. Maybe she would have searched for me.
Please answer these questions for me, will you?