Semi-Fiction

Prologue –
Me, a frustrated employee of an IT company, who believes work sucks, drinks alternate weekends, curses every minute and is not happy with anything in life.
20000 employees in the campus where I work, out of which around 35% are women. And out of this 7000 odd, some 5000 are in my age group. So there is a fair probability that I might have seen some 4000 of them at least once.
I travel by the BMTC bus, back and forth between Madivala and Electronic City, the location of my workplace.
I didn’t believe in love at first sight until 1 Mar 2009, 8pm, when as usual, while returning from work, I got into a bus.

I saw her for the first time in a local bus. I don’t know what happened but for the first time I felt like the world had suddenly become mute. Yes, she was the girl for whom I had been waiting. Not that she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. But there was something that held me still. A strange calm on her face, a sense of confidence or was it her beauty, I didn’t know. But for sure, I was in love. My first love!!
It was like a dream until my mute world came crashing down with the bus conductor’s harsh voice. I wanted to slap him for this, but his fiery eyes and hefty body made me change my decision. I paid the charge and looked ahead. She sat on one of those seats reserved for women and there was one vacant seat beside her. I walked ahead but couldn’t sit on it thinking that it would make it impossible for me to look at her if I sat. While she gazed out through the window, small strands of her hair befriended with the blowing wind played all across her face. I realized she was fair as there was a complexion difference between her hair and her skin. There was a dazzle in her eyes, that of a child seeing the world for the first time and everything seeming to be new. Occasionally she would close her eyes and enjoy the lovely wind. And then she would pull the strands back with her index finger. She wore a nice earring, neither too big, nor too small, just the way I liked. And no rings in her fingers meant probably she was single. She was dressed in a black salwar kameez with white patterns and carried a small handbag.
“Oh God!! What is happening to me. The emotionally strong guy that I am is enjoying the sight of a girls hair blowing in the wind. There is a vacant seat and I have been standing all through. 8kms and I haven’t taken my eyes off her. And I have a client call in another 20 mins. I should be thinking about the issues to be discussed and I am enjoying seeing a girl I didn’t know”, I started cursing myself but then stopped when she stood up. The next stop is where I had to get down, is she going to get down there? Forgetting all the clients and all the bladdy phone calls, I crossed my fingers.
Yes. She got down at the stop and so did I. And I started following her. A faint perfume trailed on the path she walked on. And I made a silent prayer.
“God, please do something so that I could talk to her. Make her trip on a stone and fall, but do not hurt her. Do something.”
And then there are these moments when you turn from a fanatic to a complete believer. Something slipped from her handbag and she didn’t realize it. As I moved ahead, I realized it was her I-Card.
Shalini Gupta. Working in the same company as I.
“God!! I always knew you were there. I can feel you. Thanks a lot. But how come I had never seen her even once.” Ignoring the thoughts, I started moving towards her. As I increased my pace, my heart started thumping furiously. I felt like someone was hitting with a hammer from the inside of my heart. I felt nervous and her perfume further increased my nervousness.
I said: “Excuse me”
She turned around and looked at me. She did not have an irritated or indifferent look on her face, like other girls. Instead there was a smile which made me even more nervous.
Shalini: “Yes”
Me: “You dropped your I-Card”
I stretched my hand to give it to her.
Shalini: “Oh. Thanks”
Me: “So, you also work with WCS”
Shalini: “Yes. But did you say also? Do you work with WCS?”
Me: “Yes. EC office”
Shalini: “What a coincidence. Me too”
And then started the conversations hovering around projects and accounts and managers. And just when I thought I was getting comfortable talking to her, I got the dreaded client call.
Huh!! Cursing the clients I took an excuse and we parted.

For the first time after college, I didn’t feel like sleeping that night. All I could think was she. Her face, strands of hair, the perfume, her voice..Ahh!! I was surely in love. I put on my ear-phones, and started listening to a couple of romantic English numbers. And my emotions multiplied with each song. My engineering brain responded back with an equation: Emotions are directly proportional to the number of English romantic songs heard. I don’t know what time I slept. But when I woke up, I felt terribly exhausted. I rushed to my office and gathered as much information about her as I could from the intranet. I could have written an essay on her if you had asked me to. And that day, I didn’t go out for lunch with my friends. Instead I waited near her workspace building to catch a glimpse of her, but in vain. Maybe she had skipped lunch or something. I didn’t know. I waited impatiently for the office hours to get over, with a hope of meeting her at the bus stop. I waited at the stop from 7 till 9pm. But she didn’t come. Maybe she had left at 6.
Huh!! With a heavy heart I returned to my room with the promise of being there at 6 the next day. And I did so. I reached there sharp at 6. Impatience increasing every second, I ate whatever I could lay my hands on, near the bus stop. I had roasted nuts, nariyal paani and don’t remember what else while waiting for her. Finally she came at around 8 and I walked towards her.
Me: “Hi”
Shalini: “Oh hi. How are you”
Me: “Ya am fine. How are you doing”
Conversations started and we got into a bus. My guess was partially correct. The previous day she had skipped lunch but had returned by the 10pm cab. And she stayed in a PG near my room. Gradually the talks shifted from projects to movies and other interests and I thanked God every time our likes matched. She liked SRK as did I. Kajol was our favourite. She hated staying late at office. And she liked new songs as she felt old ones hurt her reminding her of old memories. Unbelievable. It was like as if she was telling me what I wanted to say to her. For sure, she was the girl. As I bid her goodbye near the PG, for the first time in my life, I asked a girl her phone number. And she gave it to me without hesitation. I told her a partial lie though. I said that it was boring traveling alone to office. So it would be great if I got company. But the reality was that I wanted to be there with her every minute every second.
The next morning I called her up and we met at the bus stop. And our trips to office and back to our rooms began. I started lying to my friends and going out for lunch with her. I was there with her for breakfast, lunch, snacks except the dinner which was cooked in my room while she had it in her PG. Shalini was into a support project where-in someone had to be present at all times for monitoring purposes. So she never got company for lunch. And she had joined the company two weeks back so she didn’t have any friends. Basically she was a loner like me. And within a week we became very good friends and came to know a lot about each other.

Shalini was an orphan and was brought up in an orphanage in Jabalpur. I didn’t how to react when I heard this. The immature guy that I was, I became happy for a second that there won’t be any problems from family side if I were to marry her, as happens in most of the cases. The next minute I realized what all she had missed in her life and I cursed myself. I wanted to give her a hug. Instead I held her hands and comforted her. She had studied all her life with the help of scholarships that she got. Every month she sent one-fourth of her salary to the orphanage. This generated a lot of respect in me for her. And I did something very funny. We were in a bus when she told me about this. I stood up and saluted her. Amidst the confused faces of fellow passengers, I could see her embarrassment. She asked me to sit quietly which I did without any hesitation. How could I refuse her?

Days passed by while our trips continued. The floodgates of the emotions which I had locked in my heart long back were slowly getting opened. From the frustrated foul-mouthed loner that was me, I was getting transformed into a mature, satisfied and a happy human being. There were a couple of incidents that changed me a lot.
Shalini wanted to visit my room and one day I let her do that. Being a bachelor and a frustrated one, I lacked the conscience of neatness. I used to wash my clothes regularly but my room was in a complete mess.
She asked me : “Would you be happy if tomorrow your child had to live in such a mess? How would your parents feel if they saw this place?” And I had no answer.
Quietly and shamelessly I attempted helping her as she took lead and transformed my room into something unimaginable, at-least according to my standards. And I promised her that I would always keep it the same. If someone else had told me this, I would have cursed the person. But it was Shalini. I don’t know what she said was good or not, but I didn’t want to go against her. Later in the evening my roommates were amazed with the whole thing. One of them ended up asking me: “Are you okay? What has happened to you?” I wish I could tell him that I was in love and it was not me who had transformed our room.

Two months had passed since I had met her and we used to meet every day. On weekends we used to go out to old-age homes, orphanages or go out to parks and talk. If I was out of town, we would talk on phone. We were in touch everyday. Occasionally we used to have golgappas which she loved a lot.
It had been two months since I had been in love and I hadn’t expressed it yet. I feared that she might react differently. But this whole thing had started becoming a burden for me. And I decided that I had to express it to her. I took her to Lalbagh. The height of the hillock and the winds created the perfect ambiance. And after sunset, when people started disappearing, I told her everything that I felt. Once I had said everything, she stood up and walked two steps ahead. And I got really scared.
“Did I hurt her? Will she never talk to me? Oh shit!! What have I done.”
With all these thoughts, I stepped towards her and was shocked to see tears in her eyes. I almost had an attack of depression. But what happened next saved me from fixing an appointment with a psychiatrist. She came towards me with a smile on her face and gave me a hug. All the tensions and worries were soothed in a second. Her eyes and her tears had spoken everything. And I remember, it was the night that I had slept the happiest.

There is another incident which happened a month after I had expressed my feelings to her. One of my friends was getting married and we had a bachelor’s party planned out. I had not told Shalini about this as I didn’t want her to know about my drinking habits and wild partying. When I was on a high, as usual she called me on my cellphone. I disconnected her call. It happened a second time. The third time I switched off my cellphone as I was too high to realize what I was doing. I had a rocking time at the party. The next morning I woke up pretty late and I realized something that I should have done.
Gosh!! I had not called up Shalini. I immediately dialed her number. She replied she was in office and disconnected the call. From her tone, I could sense that something was wrong. So as soon as I reached office, I went to her workplace and called her up again. I said I wanted to talk to her and she told me to wait in the adjoining conference room. I did as she said and waited. And when she came, what I saw hurt me a lot. She had swollen eyes and a heavy voice. I realized she had been sobbing the previous night while I was on a high and enjoying myself. And this sense of realization made a small tear emerge out of my left eye. I don’t know what she did was right or what I did was wrong, I knew only one thing. I had done something that I would never do consciously – hurt her. And that party was the last time I drank. Alcohol reminded me of the guilt of hurting Shalini and I could never drink again.

Slowly and slowly I was getting transformed from the animal I was to the person every parent want their child to be. I quit smoking, drinking, started becoming neater, wearing ironed clothes, clean shoes, talking politely to everyone, helping others. Huh!! I had started living. And I had made strange promises to her, like never to get depressed whatsoever, never cry, always be happy, keep helping others and on and on. And I dared not break a promise. During this phase of my life, I had become alienated from my friends but I was happy. I told them the truth that I was in love and they were happier for me. I stopped cursing. Everything had started looking so beautiful in this world. My concentration had suddenly increased at my workplace and my manager could not have been happier. I don’t know what was happening but for sure I was happy. And so was Shalini. And the people around me. In a small happy world.
Though I still had a couple of years to get married, one day I proposed to her. She had a small laugh and told me to focus on my career.
She said: “Your career has just started. Focus on that now. Anyways I am there with you”
I felt stupid for asking such a question but I had become habituated to expressing myself. I could no longer hide a thing from her. Even if it was not of much importance, I made it a point to tell her everything. Maybe there was a trust between us of not hiding anything. Six months had passed since I had met her. And then one day my happy world came crashing down.

One morning I called up Shalini but her phone was switched off. I tried calling her up the whole day but she didn’t pick up. I was feeling tensed but since I had promised her, I tried to stay calm. In the evening I went to her workplace, and waited patiently. After around an hour, one of her team-mates whom I knew, came out. I asked her about Shalini and then what I heard shocked me like hell.
The previous day was Shalini’s last working day. She had quit the job two months ago. And she never told me about it. I mean how could she. I got completely pissed off, shocked and angry, but as I had promised her, I calmed down and rushed to her PG. She had vacated the room this morning. To where, no one knew. She had left me a message: “Keep your promises. Bye.”
I was really getting mad. Where could she have gone to? Jabalpur? But I didn’t have any contact number. Or was there no orphanage at all? Did she lie to me? Did she go back to her native place, to her parents? I didn’t know. I didn’t know anything.
For the first time in my life I felt helpless. I wanted to cry but couldn’t. I wanted to curse but couldn’t. I was hurt by the same girl who had taught me how to live. All the promises that I had made to her prevented me from doing anything to vent out. There was nothing I could do to find her. Nevertheless I started. I tried to inquire about all outgoing flights, trains and bus details for passenger information but in vain. What complaint could I lodge for someone whose history was unknown to me and to whom I was not officially related. For someone who had quit her job and gone somewhere without informing me. I didn’t know where she was, in what condition she was, if she was…God forbid. I had promised her that I won’t let negative thoughts cross my mind come what may. I stayed calm and still.
Why did she do like that? Did she want to run away from me? What was it that made her do this? I shared all my thoughts with her and she hid such a big thing from me, and that too for the last two months. I wished I had died instead of seeing this day, but I had promised her that I would never hurt myself. A week went by and I became lifeless. I smiled at people because I had promised Shalini, I pretended to be happy because I had promised her. My friends came to know about this whole thing but none could help me. There was nothing they could do. On their initiative, we went to a temple one evening. There was some havana going on and the sanctum sanctorum had become full of fumes. And in those fumes I couldn’t control myself and I broke down. What my friends thought was caused due to the irritation of the fumes was actually because I was crying. I believed that even if Shalini saw me she wouldn’t know that I was crying. Or maybe she could feel. I don’t know. But definitely I needed a vent to those emotions which were choking me. And that was the last time I cried.

It’s been almost a year now since I saw her for the first time. With our anniversary on the 1st of March, I miss her. And I miss all the love and affection she used to shower upon me. I don’t know where she went and why she left me. Maybe she was an angel who had come to my life to teach me how to live. The space that she had created in my heart will always remain vacant. She had taught me a way to live and I promise to follow that. And the promises I made her are the ones that have helped me resist her absence. I wish I had made her promise a couple of things, at least a promise to be there with me forever. I wish.
But life goes on. I promise to live a healthy, responsible and a happy life and I promise to love you till my last breath. My angel, Shalini – I love you.

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