Thursday, May 6, 2010

Shalini - Love story

She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I cannot describe herbeauty in the limited time I have here. I was 23 and fresh out of college,when I saw her. I don't know if it was the hormones but I loved her atfirst sight. She was the girl of my dreams.It is said that matches our made in heaven. It was sheer destiny that wewere traveling to Chennai on the same train, The Niligiri Express. We werein the same compartment, S1 and were seated next to each other, 25 and 26.It was an amazing coincidence as my ticket had been confirmed only at thelast minute."Hi, my name is Shalini," she introduced herself with a beaming smile. Shestretched out her right hand. I was shivering when I shook it."I am Arjun," I said and added, "Pleased to meet you."She had a serene, innocent face; the face of the kind of person who getsbullied in school. The image of a woman who couldn't hurt a fly if shewanted to."How old are you?" I blurted out. It was the worst question to ask a womanbut I was a nervous wreck and I wanted to talk to this woman.She smiled at me and said, "Never ask a man his salary and a woman herage." "I'm so sorry. I don't..." My tongue adamantly stuck to the roof of mymouth"No, it is okay. Let us say, I will be sixty seven in 2050."I worked out the math. She was twenty two. I was twenty three. It wasperfect! A match made in heaven."Do you have a crush on me?" she asked."What? How could you ask...?""Do you have a crush on me or not?" she asked emphasizing on 'crush'."To tell you the truth, yes," I said meekly."It's okay. You can be bold about it. I'll tell you a little secret."She pulled my ear next to her mouth and whispered, "I think you areattractive. I might even love you"I turned pink the next moment."Hey you believed me, didn't you? April fool, go to school. Tell yourteacher, you are a fool," she shouted. She laughed at the top of her voice.I checked my watch. It was April 1st, 2005 and I had been made a jackass.I didn't want to look at the woman's face again. I loved her but I hatedher for what she had done. I turned to the opposite side and stared out ofthe window.She noticed my sulking face."Hey, don't get mad at me. It was a joke. That's all. I'm sorry," she said.I didn't look at her and didn't reply."Okay. What can I do to compensate?" "You could sing a song for me," I said softly. I wanted to know how wellmy girl could sing."Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you." She stood up and went tothe centre of the compartment."Friends, we have a birthday boy in our midst. I want all of you to wishhim happy birthday."The entire compartment including the TTE (Train Ticket Examiner) wassinging "Happy birthday to Arjun."She took out a vegetable sandwich from her bag. She said that it was asubstitute for a cake. I cut the sandwich and gave her the first piece.She removed the tomato and cucumber from the sandwich. She pasted thecucumber and tomato all over my face. I distributed the remaining bits ofthe sandwich to everyone in the compartment. It was the best birthday Ihad ever had.When all the euphoria died I asked her, "How did you know that it was mybirthday?"She pointed to the card on top of my bag."Will you make a birthday resolution for me?" she asked."Sure. Tell me.""Promise to always smile because life presents too many opportunities tocry. And you look ugly when you are sad.""It is a promise." I rested my palm on top of hers.The perfectly romantic scene was disturbed by a child's cry coming fromthe adjoining apartment. She took her hand off mine. I thought, "Damn,tough luck."She went to the next compartment to see what the problem was. The boy wastwo years old and his mother was not to be found. Nobody seemed to careabout the boy.She carried the boy in her arms and brought him to our compartment. Shecajoled the boy by singing a lullaby for him. She had a sweet voice; thevoice of a nightingale."I love kids," she said. "I love kids, too," I replied, eager to show we had similar tastes.The boy did not stop crying. He appeared to be terrified of us. His motherwas nowhere to be seen."You don't like songs. Okay, I will tell you a story. Once upon a time, ina faraway land, there lived a king."The boy listened intently for a second but started crying as soon as shepaused."Hey, relax. Give me time to think of a story. You are an impatient baby.In this land...""I will look for the boy's mother," I said. She nodded her head.I found the boy's mother, two compartments away. She had gone there tomeet a friend. She had forgotten about her kid.When we came back to S1, we found the boy sound asleep in Shalini's lap.She had used all her powers of persuasion to make him feel secure in herlap."I want to thank...""Shh...Your son is sleeping. Don't disturb him," she whispered to theboy's mother and gave the boy to her."Do you want the Nobel peace prize?" I asked her cynically."I love people. When I am around, the people around me should be happy.That is my philosophy in life," she said, sincerely.It made me feel small and stupid in front of her. I began to rethink aboutmy mission in life. Should I be a priest? No, can't marry her. Socialworker, peace activist...maybe.We heard a voice in the distance shouting "Is there a doctor on thistrain?""Dr. Shalini, here. How can I help you?" she shouted back.We waited to see the face of the voice we had heard. It was aco-passenger, a bearded man who seemed anxious."Doctor, my father is serious. Please do something.""Come with me. You could be of help," she told me. She caught hold of myarm and guided me along the compartment. I had absolutely no say in thematter. Oh! The power of women! The old man was in a grave condition. His breathing was heavy and he wascoughing profusely. He seemed ready to make peace with god. "Open thewindows," she told me. I opened all the windows to allow fresh air to comein."Hold him up for me," she instructed.I made the old man sit up. She took out her stethoscope and checked hisheartbeat. She checked his pulse for variations.I watched her lovingly as she worked her magic on the old man. She was sosoft and tender with people. Whether it was a little boy or an old man,she had so much affection for them. Unbelievably, the old man was normalwithin half an hour. His son didn't have enough words to thank Shalini."He is okay now. Don't disturb him. Let him sleep well," she instructedhim."I never expected you to be a doctor," I said."Men always think that beautiful women don't have brains."I didn't know how to reply to that remark. Did she mean that she wasbeautiful, or brainy or both. One can never understand a woman's mind. So,I diverted the conversation."What made you become a doctor?" I asked."A lot of things. It was my father's dream. Above all else, it gives methe power to make people smile; the power to save lives.""Will you marry me?" I asked, spontaneously. I had never been more sure ofmyself."Is this April fool?""No. I am serious. See, I know that I am unemployed. I am not even aseducated as you. I don't even look good. I have no caliber. But I loveyou. Will you marry me?""You know nothing about me. I don't like commitments. I live every daylike it is my last.""If you marry me, I will live everyday like it is my first."She closed her beautiful eyes. She took a deep breath and thought for amoment. The suspense was killing. "God, why didn't I meet you earlier," she said.I had no time to reply. The doors to my mouth were sealed by her lips. Ithought that my head was immersed in the clouds. The people in mycompartment pretended to close their eyes. But I could see the men lookingat me with envy through the corner of their eyes. It was the mostbeautiful moment of my life. It still is the most beautiful.The train came to a screeching halt. We had reached Tirupur station. Itwas hard to believe that so much had happened in two hours.There are some moments in life which you can remember even in your sleep.For me, it was what happened at Tirupur railway station. It redefined mylife forever."I am hungry. Get me something to eat," said Shalini. She dug into herleather handbag and brought out twenty rupees."It's okay. I have money. What do you want?""Get me Strawberry milk to drink. And honey, I love you," she said,earnestly.We hugged again. For the last time.The milk booth was about hundred feet from S1. It gave me time to thinkabout the sudden changes in my life. My parents were conservative people.I had to convince them about Shalini. If they agreed, good. If not, whocares? I loved Shalini more than my parents. My thoughts were disrupted by the sound of an explosion. It sounded likethe aggregation of a thousand thunders. The impact of the explosion threwme off my feet. I turned to look at the train. S1, S2 and S3 had beenreduced to pieces, like waste in a manufacturing process.My only thought was about Shalini. I ran towards where S1 had previouslybeen. I searched for her amidst the corpses. All I could find were severedhands, burnt flesh and a fresh stream of blood. Not a single body wasidentifiable in the three compartments.Who on earth could do such a cruel thing, I wondered. I swore that I wouldget even with the people who had taken my beloved Shalini's life. I weptlike a little boy who had lost his favorite toy. Amidst the tears, Ithought about the two hours I had spent with Shalini. Something she hadsaid had struck me as strange."You know nothing about me. I live everyday like it is my last. God, Iwish I had met you earlier." "Could it be Shalini," I wondered. "No, notShalini. She had too innocent a face to do such a dastardly act. Besides,she was a doctor. And they know the value of a human life," I reasoned tomyself. The next morning, my worst fears were confirmed. A newspaper report said,"A twenty two year old doctor named Shalini had committed suicide on theNiligiri express. She had taken the lives of hundred people with her. Thereasons for the attack are unknown."I never understood the reasons for the attack. It could have been personalor ideological. All I can still remember is her face, how innocent itlooked. How she made everyone around her happy. How she showed love andcare to kids and old men alike.That face was a mask. Beneath the benevolent mask, was the true Shalini. Ahard-nosed, sadistic, terrorist capable of sacrificing human life tosatisfy her selfish needs.She truly changed my life. From then on, I realized that every human wearsa mask which he develops over a period of time. It is the mask which isexposed to the world. Beneath that mask, after layers of deceit there liesthe true nature of each individual. This real person in each one of us isintricately more fascinating than any figment of wild imagination.Shalini's mask was my first love. I will always love her.

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