About twenty years ago, I was in
Ireland, living in my parents' home and saving every penny to come out to to visit Yash, the man of my dreams. I carefully accumulated as much leave as I could and when I had a full month's leave and enough money to buy an air ticket, I was gone to India to see my beloved. India
We had the most idyllic time. We travelled up and down north
on buses and even visited the Taj Mahal. I also hung around while Yash worked. In those days he worked for a government organisation based in the beautiful city of India . Yash, along with some colleagues, rented some rooms in a house nearby the office, which was situated in a beautiful, leafy suburb. Oh, yes, it was a leafy suburb all right. Every single house on the road stood on its own plot of land. You couldn't see the next door neighbour's house. Yash's landlady Zeba used to grow her own vegetables and even some spices too. I often noticed her picking saffron, which, pound for pound was more precious than gold! At least it was then. Yash and his colleagues rented a room each. At dinner time, they worked communally, each in his own room. One person made rice, one person made chapatis, one cooked a dal (pulse) and one cooked a sabzi (vegetable curry). Srinagar
I tried staying in a hotel, but I saw nothing of Yash except an hour in the evening. So the people he lived with made some adjustments and I was given one of the rooms in their house while others shared. We had to keep things very much above board and respectable. One didn't want others to get the wrong idea, after all, heaven forbid.
One afternoon, while everyone was at the office, I was reading in my room when I noticed Yash's closest friend and colleague Devendra (who came from a village in Uttar Pradesh near
, Yash's city) was at home. He told me he had a day off. We chatted for a while. He seemed preoccupied, looking towards the door constantly. Then, I noticed a young lady, dressed like a Punjabi in a shalwar suit standing in the doorway. Devendra instantly jumped up and introduced me to her as "Miss Shalini", a teacher in the local government school. Shalini is a first name. Devendra was being very 'propah' indeed! We chatted for a couple of minutes while I wondered what to make of the situation. Then Devendra reminded me that I had earlier mentioned (had I?) that I had some clothes to wash. He told me that I should go and wash them immediately and have the work finished before Yash came in from the office. Oh really? I'm not very quick, but it wasn't difficult to see that I was being 'got rid of'. That pair wanted to be on their own! Lucknow
I was fuming as I washed those clothes. How dared Devendra get rid of me in such an obvious manner! I looked obliquely at the couple from the kitchen sink. They were still sitting in exactly the same place as they'd been. I was madly curious. Was this girl Devendra Kumar's girlfriend? Yash had given me to understand that nice, respectable people here in India didn't do things like that and that we were very odd indeed. Well, we weren't as odd as Yash seemed to think, by the looks of things.
Clothes washed, I went off to read my book. Shalini made tea and served me a cup, very shyly and smiling in a charming way. Then she went into one of the kitchens and prepared rice, dal, sabzi and chapatis. For Devendra and all his company's evening dinner. By evening, she had disappeared.
"Who is Shalini?" I asked Yash.
"A teacher in the local army school," he replied.
"Is she Devendra's girlfriend?" I asked.
"I don't know," Yash shrugged.
Of course I was right! When I returned to visit Yash two years later, living as he was then in a city called
, Devendra and Shalini were now a married couple. They also had a new baby daughter, Akanksha and were living nearby. Shalini's health was not very good and she was still recuperating from the delivery. But how happy they were! I'll never forget it! They had gone trough the usual problems that Indians face when they want to marry out of community. Devendra was from the Thakur community of Uttar Pradesh and Shalini belonged to a business community from the Jammu Punjab. Although both sets of parents were deceased, they had to get the assent of their various relatives to go ahead with their plans to marry. They bore it all patiently and were none the worse for it.
Now, it's twenty years later. Devendra and Shalini are now living in another distant north Indian city,
. Akanksha remains their only child, now a beautiful young woman who is studying commerce at university level. Shalini's health is still not very good, but they are going on through life and are our closest friends, just like family. Of course Yash and I have got married in the meantime and have four kids. Akanksha is a elder wonderful elder sister ('didi') to my children and to my surprise, is now a blogger! Patna
I guess I should have seen it coming. I've known about her urge to write for some time now. She had done a guest post on my blog in July, about a month back. So I can't say I was surprised when she contacted me and asked me to visit her blog! I can't believe that this little girl who has literally grown up in front of me is now making her way in the world. Time flies so fast.
I'd just like to ask my regular readers to go over to Akanksha's blog (http://studentsdiary-anki.blogspot.com) and have a look. It would be nice if you could leave a comment for her and encourage her because we all know comments give great encouragement. Thanks!