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If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking.
My dreams were almost within my reach. Her words reached my ears taking a circuitous route, being re-directed by Chashmi, my wife. As she repeated Kulachi's words torpedoed at Luke, she made no attempt to restrain her words that then behaved like nine-year Olds just after school. 'She has...Kulachi has said,..no...informed...er...proposed..,' Chashmi, usual for her, was struggling to stumble on the right expression, but trotted on, 'Luke has yet to reply.' No words yet. Report incomplete, I thought, but said,' That's poetry coming from a forty-plus short-story writer. Kulachi alias Dolly is evolving.' That should have qualified as nasty humour, as Dolly was a rather close to Chashmi. They had been teaching at the same polytechnic in Delhi -- and now both were together even in England. Chashmi, on a commonwealth scholarship, was searching for some yet unsolved mathematical mystery ; Dolly, on a self-paid holiday, was searching for some as yet unattached mysterious male. Both were researching. One wanted to spin as a doctor, the other wanted spinster ship to be doctored. Chashmi is small, wears spectacles and is a careful person. Dolly is big, wears a grin that looks hooked to a large nose, and generally makes a spectacle of herself. Both are friends. And I was lucky. I was fortunate my wife was too pre-occupied trying to recollect the correct sequence of Kulachi's proposal.....or rather, limerick as it appeared to be now. 'Really original. I never expected Dolly to walk upto Luke and tell him if he would prefer to live forever after this day, with nineteen fingers exploring two bodies.' Chashmi looked at me, genuine admiration snorkelling in the tidal waves of her corneal seas. Nineteen fingers, I thought, and asked, 'When are we inviting nineteen fingers 1
for coleslaw-sandwiches and fish-fingers, dear ?' Chashmi smiled. Maybe remembering how Kulachi had, barely three years back, cut off her right index finger just to prove that she could still pen shortstories. That was her way of showing her friends that we all exist in our minds.... Thats rare, I thought and then told myself to quit getting anchored near wicked reefs so often. But the thoughts were real enough. My wicked jokes were emerging from their sutured origins at a speed that Health Agencies frown at, and Chashmi's rare smiles facing the risk of getting fixed permanently to her researcher facade. We were changing. Puberty appeared more like a surprise bazooka firing unhesitantly in the presence of hitech laser weaponry. Mid-thirties surely cannot be expected to remain unflappable when discussing forty-somethings think aloud like grenades clowning to pass-off as christmas crackers. But really, it would be fun inviting a nineteen-finger couple for dinner before the nineteen hundreds had strolled away, imparting urgency to life and its purposeless format. 'You know Asp, figure nineteen read backward, becomes ninety-one, Luke is fifty and Dolly forty-one. That makes....' 'Ninety-one is surely fun. Getting salute from fifty guns Fired by a one and forty dunce....' I lashed triumphantly. Chashmi speared me with narrowed eyes, picked-up her dark-blue hard-bound volume on complex analysis and went into the study. She would probably batter metric spaces and slash theorems depending on the properties of open and closed sets. Maths resembles matrimony, doesn't it ? I was left in the room with my WPL paper-back on the poems of Emily Dickinson. I opened any page and simply scanned these lines : 'A word is dead When it is said, Some say. 2
I say it just Begins to live That day.' Later that night when all the howling and penetrating chill was adopted by nature outside, I stared at some unnoticed poetry volume lying open on the reading desk, allowing thoughts to meander back to India, to Kulachi. She must be feeling rather sad and lonely now, I thought, more after having mustered up enough courage to come to a foreign land and propose to someone whom you had known only through the smiling facade of words. I remember going through one of the initial letters that Kulachi had received from Luke. She was excited about everything -- the name, city, country, and even the lovely fancy stamp that the postman had forgotten to remove before delivering the letter. 'He is one having real enthusiasm.....imagine, he still plans to go to the university and study further,' she shouted, forgetting momentarily our 'ears-in-the-keyhole-neighbours', later, softening her tone she continued,'Luke stays in Leeds. He is divorced and stays with his mother. He has saved enough money and so has taken admission in the university there. He is going to be an engineer at FIFTY.' That high-decibeled last word would surely get our neighbour's ears glued, I thought, but said aloud, 'Forget it yaar.' 'Why forget such an exciting discovery,' Kulachi was hurt. 'No', I said, 'I didn't mean that. And yes, Luke does appear to be an enterprising kid. I really like such people. I hope you too learn something from him.' 'Come on now, Asp,' my wife looked at me with a mixture of mirth, satisfaction, and happiness. A strange look, but stranger how most of us tend not to notice such delicacies of expression. I know Chashmi likes it when she feels I am analysing the complexities of her expressive stance. Her eyes told me she would whisper her appreciation tonight. There must have been silence for some time, because Kulachi said, 'I hope I haven't come at a busy moment.' 'No', both of us said at the same time. 'We don't mind you coming without a 'prior appointment', I said, expecting 3
everybody to laugh at this Indian joke about the so-often heard British reserve. But everybody was intent on Dolly's newest pen-pal. There was silence. The room was pregnant with thoughts travelling with speed from one country to another. Our neighbour's tympanic membrane must have registered an exotic hum, but we were past caring for such mundane nuisances. Over the next few months a lot happened. Our plans to go to the UK matured, Dolly's friendship with Luke reached a level where he invited her to stay with him for a few days. Chashmi was happy....this combination of a D.Phil., scholarship, three years in a foreign land, Luke, Dolly's presence....'What more can God give ?' Chashmi said and sighed. The howling outside had stopped. So had my walk in the past. Just then Chashmi entered, having prepared the house for the rush of the next day. She opened her mouth to say something when the phone rang. We looked at each other exchanging a mild surprise, and then I stepped forward to pick-up the receiver. 'Hello...Ah Kulachi...How's everything at home ? ' Chashmi was by my side now, so without listening to the answer to my question, I transferred the receiver to my wife's hand. I was told later that Kulachi's mother was feeling better now, and would be back to her former self in just a few days. 'So what are Dolly's plans now ?' I asked. 'She's coming. Luke telephoned her that he was getting married to Miki, a Japanese student at the university.' I was just as shocked as Chashmi appeared. Nature outside was once again howling. * On a sunny afternoon, when even a sudden drizzle could be ruled-out, we were planning to visit Clifford's Tower, the only site left unseen. There was aloud knock at the door and I asked our son to see who it was. 'Namaste, aunty. Namaste uncle. Please come in.' I could hear Pipi's voice but could get no clue as to who he was talking to. 4
That was when a grin hooked to a large nose peered-in and before I could utter any newly acquired expression of exclamation, Dolly and Luke entered. 'We are married,' they said. 'Chashmi,' I shouted, 'Nineteen-fingers are here. Prepare some coleslawsandwiches. Put a box of fish-fingers in the oven....' Chashmi entered, and after the medley of hellos and congratulations and bestwishes, the how-did-it-all-happen discussion started. 'Well, nothing dramatic really happened,' said Luke, 'Miki doesn't exist.....and I wanted to be sure Kulachi really liked me....' 'And I travelled all this distance so I could stop one heart from breaking,' said Kulachi, and continued, 'Luke's voice told me he would be hurt if I said no to attending his marriage.' 'Yes, you did stop one heart from breaking,' I replied softly. Chashmi added, 'And you did attend Luke's marriage.' To me, a grin hooked to a large nose must surely have thought. 'Lets all go to Clifford's Tower and watch York celebrate sunshine,' I proposed, and bent down to open and retie my shoe-laces. #
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