Baanke ran his fingers in his carefully disarranged hair while checking himself out in the mirror at the paan shop and stuffed the Benarasi Paan in his mouth. All the time he was looking askance at the gate of Heerabai Chawl. He saw Rubina walking daintily, avoiding the garbage dumped over by the careless inhabitants of the chawl. “These animals will never learn the lesson of cleanliness!” Baanke swore loudly and prolatized, while spitting on the feet of one of the customers. He admired his disarrayed locks for the last time in the mirror, adjusted the colored handkerchief rolled in his collar in the style worn by Anil Kapoor in the movie Tezaab, adjusted his rainbow glares and followed Rubina. He knew that Rubina is the daughter of a doctor and is a graduation student. Way above his own station. But, since time immemorial, love has never cared about class and worth. Like an accident it can happen to anyone. Baanke was in love. He followed Rubina to Dadar station. He would have followed her till her college in Bandra, but the last time he attempted this, he was caught without ticket and was jailed for three day and that had cooled off his ardor temporarily. He stopped near the cab stand and watched a piece of his heart walk away. He pulled out the plastic rose, which he had bought today to gift her as a Valentine.
Rubina looked behind once and didn’t notice Baanke. Today should be declared a national holiday, she thought. At least for the youths. She wasn’t aware of the history of St Valentine or his sacrifice but she was aware of the importance of this day in youngsters’ lives. She alighted at Bandra while debating with herself if her love for the professor was real or simply another childish infatuation. Then she saw him. Professor Mukherjee was in his early 30s and looked like a yesteryear’s film star. Very funny and mild. He exuded a boyish charm and was adored by all the female students of his.
As usual, she was mesmerized by the charms of the handsome professor, who never referred to his notes even once and still managed to keep the students spellbound through his sheer charisma. This was the only lecture, which she hadn’t missed in the last three months. She patted her stray tresses in place and kept staring at her idol, while he walked at the podium, expostulating some theory or another. She was waiting eagerly for the lecture to end. Rubina opened her clutch and peeked inside. A small red rose looked back at her shyly. The bell rang, announcing the end of the lecture. Rubina hastened to meet Mr Mukherjee. She held him as he was going to leave in a hurry. “What’s it, Ms?”
“Sir, I wanted to tell you something… ” Rubina stuttered, her ears turning red, while her hands sought to find that elusive red rose in the junk of her clutch while Mr Kumar, the philosophy professor arrived out of nowhere and pulled Mr Mukherjee away. Rubina stood there with mixed emotions. Relief from being granted a reprieve out of a painful situation and the frustration of being robbed of the peace of mind, which she would have got, once this unsaid was finally off her chest! She cursed Mr Kumar for intruding at the wrong time and also breathed a sigh of relief at delaying this moment for another opportunate time.
Mr Mukherjee was in a hurry and was fuming inside. He tried to fob off Mr Kumar, but the latter had something important to discuss. Mr Mukherjee finally got rid of him after 15 minutes and nearly ran to a waiting cab. He jumped in and barked at the driver to drive him to the Bandra station as fast as he can. The driver rolled his eyes as Bandra station was walkable distance, but he dutifully started the cab. Mukherjee was restless the entire time and kept looking at his wristwatch. He adjusted the collars of his two-piece blazer, which he had bought last week for today and rubbed his face vigorously with his hankie. He checked his watch again and was sure that he was going to be late by five minutes and miss her.
Snehal was standing there in the queue for the daily shuttle bus for Santacruz and was looking anxiously towards the incoming vehicles. She was aware that today he was late again. She was wearing ice-blue denim and white top, which offset her fairness and gave her an ethereal quality. She was wearing her hair loose and was listening to some music through her earphones.
Mr Mukherjee jumped off the cab and stood at the corner, devouring the heavenly beauty distantly. He opened his handbag. It had a red rose wrapped in a cellophane. He decided to cross the street and hand it over to her, may be also convey his feelings to her today. He tried to cross the busy station road, by then her shuttle bus arrived and crushed his one-sided romance under its giant wheels. He stepped back sadly and decided to try again some another time.
The driver jumped out in filmy style and crossed towards the left side of the vehicle to welcome the passengers. Snehal loved the song being played in her earphones, but now it was simply a meaningless gibberish to her as her attention was elsewhere. As usual, she preened and smiled at the driver, who simply gave a polite smile and opened the door of the bus chivalrously. It was a generic gesture, but to Snehal it seemed especially for her. She lowered her eyelids and murmured a self-conscious thank you. While the passengers were settling in the bus the driver walked over to the regular hawkers jovially and joked around. He leaned over a parked bike and rearranged his hair using a pocket comb, smoothed his khaki uniform, which looked as if it was especially designed for his athletic body and walked around to his driving seat. Snehal looked at him till he hopped into his perch and drove off the bus. Snehal opened her bag and took out the red rose and debated if it would be considered ladylike to give a rose to a driver on Valentine’s Day, even though he’s an employee in her company? What were the HR policies on that? The bus stopped at Santacruz and the driver was called inside the office by his supervisor. Snehal looked in that direction for a few minutes and then left for her office, crestfallen. The magic moment had passed. Now, she will have to try again.
Raghu was reprimanded by his supervisor for being late thrice this week in his shuttle deliveries. This was against the policy and he was issued a warning for that. He was a jolly guy, who never was upset for anything for long. He bowed down his head till the torrent passed, then flashed his lovely smile. His supervisor laughed at him, in spite of her anger and said, “You will never change, will you?”
Raghu smiled shyly and walked out. He left for his home early. Today was Valentine’s Day. The Universal Lover’s Day. He had decided to let Kajri know that he loves her. He went to a flower shop and bought a red rose. When he arrived in his locality, he saw Kajri walking off with her basket of red roses towards the market. Raghu couldn’t bring himself to hand over the rose, which he had brought for her. Kajri looked at him staring at her and smiled politely. He grinned goofily and hid the rose behind his back. He cursed himself for lacking the courage!
Kajri adjusted her nine yards Saree, which she always draped in the classical Maharashtrian style and looked ahead. She subconsciously patted the jasmine gajra worn in her hair and her eyes passed through the shy Raghu as if he didn’t exist. They were searching for the handsome and smart Baanke, who was standing at the tea stall, along with his other rowdy friends. They were joking with one of the vendors on the footpath and every one was laughing with Baanke shooting a furtive glance at the gates of Heerabai Chawl at intervals. She put down her basket of flowers and pulled out a red rose out of it and debated if she can give the rose to him as a token of her affection. Wasn’t today the Universal Lover’s Day?
Up there somewhere, beyond the clouds, the chubby little Cupid was peering down and dancing in glee with his tiny bow in one arm. The cherubs were also chortling happily, twanging on their tiny harps. St Valentine was passing by and was intrigued by this incessant merriment. He decided to investigate. He took one look and was perplexed by what he saw! He tapped the merry little cupid on his shoulder and said, “l say, buddy! Don’t you think that your arrows are hitting a bit off their marks? These guys are not loving the people they are supposed to!”
“But that’s the whole idea, sir!”, the adorable little angel gave his impish smile and exclaimed while adjusting his little bow. “Those who get their love too easily, never value it. Now, as they won’t get it so easy, they will cherish it for their lifetime. And, if they don’t get it at all, love will be akin to God in their eyes and like a hungry beggar, they will savor every morsel of the dry bread they get.” And he again laughed like a silver bell tinkling somewhere, with his golden curls dancing around his oval childlike visage.
This doctrine confounded the venerable Saint, who threw his hands in exasperation and stomped off, leaving the naughty little angles enjoying the romantic plight of the humankind…