I can still hear your abuses hurled at my running back, accompanied by a huge steel water glass. To my eternal credit, I deftly avoided both and stuck my tongue at you and screamed ‘Pihu, Pihu!’ before vanishing in the thickets of bamboo, which your grandfather had planted before your house. Winded, there I sat on a stone and wiped my sweating forehead with my sleeve, while bending and trying to look at your gate to ascertain if you weren’t following me again. May be, that was when my stupid love for you was burgeoning, like a tiny sprout seeing the sunshine. “
Sunanda looked around before resuming her reading again. Her husband was pottering about in the house, screaming at the bunch of numerous kids in the huge house, who true to the form of kids, refused to listen. The house had replicated the grand battlefield of Panipat with running kids as English soldiers and her harassed and martyred husband as Tatya Tope. She hid her mouth with her saree and giggled. She ensured her privacy before resuming.
“Pihu, do you remember that day, when I brought my uncle’s bike and invited you for a ride While you were walking towards the bus stand to catch a bus to your school and the way you screamed? I didn’t mean anything bad, but may be my sins were catching up that I was doubted even when I was being honest! I was very depressed and ran into a buffalo, which in turn tossed me in a nearby ditch. My father had to pay for the repairs to that bike, which he exacted with a belt on my back! See? What I suffered in my love! You will laugh, I know.”
Sunanda covered her mouth so that she doesn’t squeal her mirth. It was grotesquely humorous to imagine an angry adolescent riding into a buffalo and then flying into a ditch. Sunanda was a fair poet and like all poets, she had a vivid imagination, which presented all the ideas with startling clarity. She managed to maintain her stern posture when she saw a little child running to her. ‘Masi, please give me 2 rupees! I need ice-cream.’ Sunanda hastily hid the letter and pulled out a tiny clutch from her ample bosom. She gave 2 coins to the kid, who scampered away, chirping like a sparrow. She looked at the discolored clutch and was lost in her thoughts. In her trance, she picked up the sheaf of papers and continued, knowing well enough what she will read.
“You still carry that clutch, Pihu? That day, when you threw it back in the ditch, I came back to pick it up. I went to the bottom of the stinky water and couldn’t find it. I was lost in that quagmire that day. You made me die there and then. I hated you for hating me. Next day, when I saw that glitter of tiny mirrors, while you were paying for a pencil, I realized that the clutch still exists. I think, you came back after you threw it before your friends, and collected it. I went and fought with everyone happily. I was a crazy guy who never improved. Your love has made me Moonswept!”
Sunanda looked at the clutch with a smile. A smile, which was as enigmatic as that ugly and multicolored clutch.
“I’m going to meet you once I come back. I know that you don’t love me and will never meet me. You always thought of love in its carnal form. You never believed that there are many forms of love, which don’t require a physical affiliation to be consummated. Chakor always loved but never met the moon.
“Please understand! I know that you are married now and have two loveliest kids! But, love is one of the most curious emotions which expands your tiny heart to encompass the entire world with space to spare for another world. Like that old banyan tree before your house, it can grow out of nothing and sustain itself out of nothing. But, it can outshadow the world and sun.”
Sunanda looked outside and the banyan tree waved her leafy arms towards her. She smiled and waved back. Suddenly she froze! She remembered that time when she was with her friends at the bus stop and he came on a pilfered bike. He loved bikes. And, he knew a lot about them. He loved to show off his stunts on the bike before her and occasionally ended up in a nearby ditch, causing her to giggle. Once she chided him for such foolish stunts and he logically replied that love always makes one do foolish things, be it for a machine or for another human being.
He had his logic in place. It’s very irritating that when you begin to love someone and they are responding to you with logic! Love isn’t logic! Love defies logic. Love is a logic in itself.
“You don’t even remember that I have stolen your favorite scarf. It’s still have it in my kit here. I know that you were searching for it. I felt guilty at this theft, but my need was greater than you, Pihu! I was deployed and needed a lucky charm! Love is the charm. Lovers and idiots have their own personal gods, who exist in their beliefs. They know that they are saved as long as they believe. I am safe here, when I have your scarf hidden in my kit like a sacred talisman, which transmits a powerful signal to my heart and converts it into a fortress. What kind of demented enemy will attack such an ugly pink scarf?”
Sunanda stared at the words in mock indignation and smiled wistfully. She had a beautiful pink scarf, which her mother had bought from Mandi and which was her favorite. Like all Himachal girls, she wore it in a distinct style on her head, giving her the appearance of a coy bride. She saw him stealing that scarf and feigned panic later while searching the already lost scarf. To his credit, he helped her to search the item he stole and which she knew he did. He was heartbroken that he couldn’t find it and she cried dutifully, exhilarated with that feeling of euphoria, which makes one feel valued. She laughed and wondered if Shakespeare would have approved of this drama on the stage of life!
“I know that you never loved me. For you love was something arcane and ugly, which was Consummated behind closed doors and sans lights. For me, love was a celebration to dance under those sunswept fields and windwheeled trees. For me, love was that euphoria as compared to your guilt. Each for their own, as our English Teacher Shukla Sir said. He must be senile now, nei? I always thought that he must have received a bullet in his brain, which remained lodged there.”
Sunanda tried to suppress her laughter at his presumption. He always thought that he knew everything. He always was so confident. He never understood a woman’s heart. The house went still and a voice cried out, “Now she understood that joke!” The house exploded in laughter. She smiled in their direction indulgently and fondly remembered the crankiest teacher in universe. Satyabhan Shukla was a corporal during 62 China war. He was disabled due to a bullet in his knees, which gave him permanent disability. Sunanda understood that snide remark towards bullet lodged in brains. Shukla Sir always believed that this new job is just an extension of his old commission and treated kids as green recruits. He died 10 years ago, grieved by none, his cremation charges were subject to public charity. Everyone was generous in Himachal. They had a lavish death ceremony. Shukla Sir achieved in his death, what he never could achieve in his life. He was surrounded by people, who praised him in words which even he wouldn’t have been able to stomach!
“Pihu, you will come to Siachin? We have real snow here. Not the fluffy one you get in Shimla. I’m at minus 20 degrees. It’s more than your refrigerator! I have taken a leave this summer. I know that you won’t, but I’m inviting your parents too. Then will you? Please! I beg you, Pihu! I won’t ask for anything ever. Sorry, have to go. Today I’m on guard duty. Will write another letter, where I’ll explain how to kill ice worms.
“I won’t ever say bye, because byes always denote an end and I never want us to end. I’m okay with my questionable existence in the gray vacuum at the outpost of your life. At least, you know that I’m waiting there for you, patiently. For a glance. For a word. For a miracle!
I will see you again and torment you. What’s love if not a pain and torment of the soul? And, I can give the Devil a few pointers on misery and pain! The one who loves, cries blood and breathes ashes. C ya!
I love you, my Pihu and will always remain…
PS: I wish I could see your frown of distaste on your lovely forehead when you read that ‘I love you’! At times, teasing your loved one becomes a part of the mating ritual! Beg your leave, mademoiselle, before you throw something in my direction in frustration!’
60 years old Sunanda knew that there won’t be anymore letters. She knew that in spite of this daily flood of tears and pain, she will again go to her desk tonight to read that letter… again. She still had that last letter from Major Virender Pratap Singh. A curt letter which just talked about artillery fire and falling men. The curt letter suddenly became unprofessional with a kiss at the bottom. That was the last before she read about the Delta Company of 11 Punjab Rifles being wiped out in an onslaught in Chhamb. Her 26 years old soldier wasn’t fighting anymore. Her soldier wasn’t writing anymore. Death loved him more than she did in her inscrutable way. Death was voluble and claimed her right. They say that death is a bewitchingly beautiful maiden, who gives a quick reprieve to the brave and teases a lot to cowards. She simply cuddled her Veer and stole him away. She gave Veer what she never could.
Her crying heart screamed at his lie! He didn’t say bye, he said that he will meet her again and broke his promise and her heart as always.
60 years old Pihu finally knew what’s love and put on her thick glasses to hide her red rimmed eyes and fumbled at the brass box to keep back her treasured letter.