It was eight in the morning and I was back from my grueling Gym work out. Well, I am Mr. Vivek Deshpande, I am a little over 45 now, father of two, a caring Son of aging parents, a loving husband and a very efficient Executive vice president in a reputed MNC. After a really humble beginning, I had reached this position owing to my hard work, my parent's blessings and of course by the grace of almighty. Whenever I look back, I feel obliged to hardships my Mother and Father had been through while raising me.
I parked my Audi outside a newly purchased two storied Row house in Baner. We had recently shifted there from Kothrud. I always make it a point to have breakfast with Aai and Baba as I never have a fixed schedule for dinner, so that's the only time I get to spend with them during a weekday. We sat across the table, Rekha was being helped by maid whilst serving thali peeths, my favorite Maharashtrian delicacy. I looked at Rekha. She has been a real loving wife and a caring daughter in law. I remembered my initial days of struggle, and how she always stood by me. Without her support, I imagined, these days of luxury would not have been possible. I considered myself lucky for having her as a companion.
Just as I was busy chewing a big piece of delicious thali peeth along with ground nut chutney, my mobile phone rang. Usually, I prefer to switch my mobile off during this time, but somehow I forgot. It was Ganesh. Ganesh is one of very few school friends of mine whom I had been in touch with. He had made it big in a scrap business in Pune.
"Yes Ganesh, tell me."
"Arey Vivek, I am in a little hurry, so will tell you a bit fast. This Saturday, we have organised a reunion of our School batch. And, nothing doing, you are going to join us no matter how busy you are!"
This was typical of Ganesh and I knew he wasn't going to listen to any of my excuses.
"Arey, reunion? what's special?"
"Mr. Vice president, you might have forgotten, but we were in 10th standard once. We are commemorating thirty years of passing out. We will have a small function and a kind of get to gather. As I told you at the beginning itself, you must be there."
And he disconnected. Ok, I said to myself. This weekend did not have anything in store, so I decided to make it to the function.
Thinking of School, 10th standard, batch-mates made my mind race thirty years back. My father was in a Government job, so as a child I experienced shifting from this village to that village, from one town to another . Therefore, I never had a stable school. It was in a small town called Sangli about 150 miles to the South of Pune, it seemed as if we had settled down a bit. From my sixth standard on wards, we were staying in Sangli and I ,thankfully had one stable school to boast of till 10th. My school was a typical conservative Marathi Medium school with quite a name in that area. It was a co-ed school , however hardly six to seven girls used to be there in a class of fifty.My father had rented two rooms in an old Wada just next to the school. As far as I remember, we paid a meager rent of Rs. 15 or something. I really enjoyed the school and the surroundings. My school was just beside the banks of river Krishna. We had a real big playground. We played Cricket with friends for hours, bunked school in between, climbed tamarind trees around, sometimes swam in the river. Those were really alluring times when money was never a thing that really mattered in our lives.
I didn't even realize when the 10th standard exams came and went by. It was a long vacation afterwards. Most of my friends had gone somewhere or the other. We too had planned to go to my Uncle's home, but my father was suspecting a possibility of another transfer order this time round, hence we had stayed back.
I vividly remember that day. Just as a fun, I decided to go to School and see how empty classrooms would look. I was standing in front of the Gate looking at the statue of Shivaji Maharaj.
"What are you doing here?"
I looked back. She was standing, wide-eyed. I was quite surprised to see her in a completely different avatar.
She was wearing a bright pink Punjabi dress which I had never seen here before in. In the class, I had always remembered her in the school uniform of green and white frock, two ponies tied behind with a ribbon. There was hardly anything in her that made any heads turn. But, today I found her quite pretty. Her face was glowing. She had a plump figure, and the tight punjabi dress that she was wearing was accentuating her curves. Those pair of ponies seemed to have vanished, and their place was taken by carefully pinned henna colored hair.
I was stunned to say the least when she spoke to me. I had never spoken to her in five years, forget her,
such shy boys that we were and such was the conservative aura of our school, neither I nor any of my friends, I believed had ever talked to a girl.
"I just wanted to visit school once.." I barely managed to speak
She laughed and said,
"They won't allow you in, today it's a cleaning day. And what's this, why are you staring at me like this?"
I was embarrassed at being caught.
"aahh, you.. look.... so.. so.. "
"So.. different.." Ohh, I managed to bring something out of my mouth. Actually, I badly wanted to say Beautiful instead of different, but somehow, it didn't come out.
"I know" She blushed and asked me,
"Should we go to Riverside then?"
I was too preoccupied by her presence to say anything. I just followed her through narrow lanes of old town. Sangli wasn't so urbanized back then. Most of the people would know each other by name. Even though it was merely a 500 meters walk to river, I was just praying that no one should see both of us together ,otherwise it would make a big news in the by-lanes around my home.
We went and sat on the banks. The wide river bed of Krishna was adorning the the limits of the city, Her waters were not as polluted those days are they are now.The lush green trees, and sugarcane fields were decorating the banks on the other side. The cool breeze that blew made her hair fly around. I just sat, quiet ,throwing pebbles in the waters. I was secretly trying to peep and get a glimpse of hers. It seemed as if a great silence presided between us. The quiet, deep, serene and pristine waters of Krishna were running as deep as our emotions. Just as the Sun set, I looked deep into her eyes, my heart was beating 100 times faster than usual. I had never been in vicinity of a female this way before. With my hand trembling, I touched her soft, milky white cheeks, and it sent shivers of shock through my body. Her cheeks turned dark red, I felt embarrassed and immediately withdrew. She was taken aback. She suddenly stood up and said,
"It's late now, I think I should go."
I sat there like a statue.
"Aren't you coming along. Your Aai must be worrying for you."
"No, will stay here for a while. You carry on."
"Ok, bye, don't be too late."
She waved a hand and smiled. That was the sweetest smile I had ever witnessed in my life.
I sat there, don't know for how long throwing countless pebbles into river. It was all so so different and so so appealing to me. It felt like I was in a different world, a world of dreams, a world of fantasy. With these dreamy eyes, I went home. I thought, it would be a good deal of scolding from both Aai and Baba for being late. Instead, I found them doing busy doing packing.
"What's the matter", I asked
"It's pack up time now, I have been transferred to Pune." Baba broke the news.
From that moment on wards, I was busy packing, running around and helping at home. No less than in a week, we had shifted to a newer, bigger city. It took us quite a while to get to terms with Pune. In between, I missed her, but there was no time to keep thinking about her. When I had gone to collect my 10th results to Sangli, she was nowhere to be seen.
Times just went by. Baba somehow managed to avoid any further transfers citing the reason of his poor health. This meant we were to stay in Pune for good. My college, Engineering, new friends, various jobs, stays abroad, marriage with Rekha, two kids, promotions in jobs, more than one factor contributed towards burying the memories of that one special evening somewhere in the corners of heart. But today, when Ganesh talked of this re-union, they all came to surface as if I was 15 just yesterday.
It was Saturday, and I landed in Sangli. I was at re-union just for one reason. The School had a specious tall building now. Classrooms were a lot more specious. Those worn out, dilapidated wooden benches were replaced by a solid steel coated, there were glass boards in every classroom, with special chalks to write. The change was so apparent that every classroom actually had a working ceiling fan. And yes, the Wada that we stayed in was no more there next to school. Its place was taken up by an ultra modern society with a Swimming Pool and a Club House.
The function was good. There were some entertainment programmes, a few speeches by now retired teachers. Almost everyone of the batch had turned out. Ganesh had done a good job as organizer. But my eyes were searching only one person. And to my surprise, there she was, sitting with other girls, ohh sorry they were all ladies by now. She was wearing a pink Sari. Calling her fat would have been an understatement . She was almost round. She wore expensive jewelry. What stood out though was that big Mangal sutra that she constantly kept playing with.She seemed to have done the latest fashioned hairdo. Like that evening, those two ponytails were nowhere to be seen. Two big dangling golden earrings were caressing her big bulging white cheeks. And suddenly our eyes met and seemed like time was still. She showed no reaction and looked elsewhere.
After the delicious lunch, as all of us were enjoying a quiet time, I excused myself from the company of Ganesh, and headed to her. She was sitting in one corner, quiet.
"Hi. May I join you?" I asked earnestly.
"Ohh, hi Vivek. So you can speak too. I thought you were mute or what?.", She said mischievously.
"So, let's speak from where we had left. Should we go to riverside again?".
The moment I asked this, there was a brief silence and we both broke into laughter all at once. Both of us knew that it wasn't possible now. Much water had flown now. The waters of Krishna now, were not as clean and innocent as they were then.
The silence prevailed for a while, and I broke it to her surprise.
"I must say you are still so beautiful, but a lot fatter now."
"Yes, that's what my husband keeps saying. He urges me to go to gym."
"Ohh really? Tell me about life, where are you, what do you do?"
"Well Vivek, I was married off quite early. Owing to my looks, my parents found a real good family. My husband is an IAS officer. So, since then, I have been enjoying travelling all over the country, being a home maker.I have two kids, both of them in college, one is doing his post graduation and the other one in his final year. What about you? what do you do now a days? Did you get married or not?"
She was all questions suddenly about me.
"Yes yes. I work in a private company. I too got married, but not as early as you did. I am a father of two, both still in school and I have been in Pune since we passed out 10th and doing good by the grace of God"
"Well, I am happy for you. Is your wife beautiful?"
I wasn't expecting this question.
"Yes she is. But not as beautiful as you are.", today, I did not want to disappoint her.
She just chuckled with same innocence as the one like before 30 years.
We barely had anything to talk more. And, suddenly, her mobile phone rang. She spoke for a moment and said.
"Vivek, I must go now, the driver is waiting for me outside. My husband is posted at Kolhapur now a days and I must leave to reach by evening."
"It's Ok, it was more than nice meeting you. Hopefully next time, we can sit at riverside once again."
She didn't reply.
As a courtesy, I went outside to see her off. There was an ambassador, with an Indian Government board on top of it waiting for her. The driver came out opened door for her. She slid her heavy body in and closed the door and the engines roared.
Just as I was about to turn back, she looked outside the window, waved her hand and widened her lips to smile at me. And that was the sweetest smile I had ever experience in my life after thirty long long years!!!