Piu stopped to look back. He did look familiar.
There was a glint of “recognition” in his eyes too. Did he smile? Was it that same impish grin.
Piu started hurling out those cardboard compartments from the memory closet really fast.
Somewhere deep down, that smile brought about a lot of happy memories. The smile was almost like the touch of her grandmother’s, her thamma‘s, hands which smelled of Boroline. The touch that she yearned for when that long drawn divorce battle drained her off, emotionally and financially.
And now she was back in the city where her thamma once lived, the city which always made her feel at home and at peace.
This time she had a mission. She wanted to get rid of that very house where she had met Ranjeev. That same very old house on Southern Avenue where Ranjeev asked her out for their first date. She remembers that Ranjeev tried hard to impress his father’s ‘Tolly Club’ membership, while she continued being snooty and explained to him why ‘Calcutta Club’ was a class apart.
Ironically, Ranjeev’s father wanted to bring down her thamma’s house and develop the property. That was a decade ago. They fell in love and the house remained to stay on, as per her wish.
Ironically, the house was about to be demolished soon, as per her wish. She did not want anything in her life that reminded her of Ranjeev. Besides, the deal was good enough. Ten years back, when she left the city with Ranjeev, these developers were his father’s primary business competitors and today they ruled the roost in the city whose skyline aims to grow higher and higher in the oblivion.
But there was this man whom she had spotted today along with the developer’s entourage. He was probably one of those numerous middlemen involved in the business. His garish shirt and flashy watch epitomised the kind of people she never interacted much with. Rather, she did not like to.
This one had a very strange accent, and surprisingly, it was familiar.
At the end of the 40 minutes of discussion and completion of paperwork, Piu could not stop herself from asking him – “Excuse me, Do I know you? Have we met previously before?”
Her anglicised Bengali was jarring to everybody’s ears. She rarely spoke in her mother tongue.
Whatever happened next was beyond any body’s imagination.
The man in his 40’s broke out singing a completely out of tune – “Dekha hain pehli baar/saajan ki aankhon mein pyaar”.
While other waited with bated breath about how Piu Dutta Choudhury, the one who was 35, English speaking, divorced and almost had a reputation of being prim proper and cranky, would react.
To everyone’s surprise, she was smiling. Rather, she was giggling, just like the pigtailed school girl travelling in her father’s fashionable Fiat car while returning from her famous ‘English Medium’ school and he was the local neighbourhood ruffian who collected Madhuri Dixit posters with almost all his heart.
He used to stay in a shanty near her house. His mother quarreled and begged him to study while he flew kits and kept an eye on her house all through out the day. He had probably failed in Class VII once. Oh! and that slap that he got on his cheeks from Piu after that proposal.
“Hope you did not mind?” He said while everyone around looked at them agape.
“No, not at all..you seem to have not changed at all” Piu was breathless. He was the first one who had proposed to her when she was only in Class V.
“What’s the point in changing madam? otherwise would you have recognised me? Bolechilam na ekdin ei Sharma ke thik mone porbei! (Didn’t I tell you that you will remember me one day!)”. Sounded almost ironic since Piu had almost forgotten about his existence. Was it because of the fact that her life suddenly started revolving around Ranjeev’s?
“Oh! yes, you sounded so familiar and your smile. It’s good to know that in one corner of the world, nothing has changed” the solace that she sought was reflected in her eyes.
“No Madam, I am no more the ruffian you slapped once. I am a family man now, with two kids”. He grinned. “What to do, every one cannot have Madhuri Dixit, they have to settle for lesser mortals.”
Piu smiled back. He was right, again. She did not want to talk any more. She guessed that probably her childhood Salman Khan, the one who worshipped her like that “Chand ka Tukda” (Piece of moon), knew all about her ugly divorce. She was just presuming, though.
“Nice meeting you. Hope to see you sometime again”
“Do not make false promises Madhuri Dixit. I know you are leaving tomorrow”, he was still smiling – “I hope you remember my name – the one that you made great fun of with your friends”
“Chandan, is it?”
“Yes, I knew you will remember”. He flashed a smile that marked victory. Probably a victory of all those years’ of wait, of childhood love and innocent times.
Compromises are often bitter, settling down for something less was the mundane rule, but memories always make up for those ten or fifteen odd years in between.